Monday, December 26, 2016

Hearty Ending: Agatha Parrot and the Heart of Mud by Kjartan Poskitt

Dad stuck his head around the doorway. "James, you've got an email," he said.

"Me?" said my brother James. "Who from?"

"Ho ho!" said Dad. "It's a secret admirer!"

About a half second later, all five of us were jammed around the computer. This is what the message said:

Dear James,
How do you do? I am your cousin Bella. Granny and Granddad say that you are the same age as me, so I am just writing to say hello. I like theater and dancing. What are your hobbies? Please email me back.
Love from Bella

James is underwhelmed at having an email from a strange girl, especially one with LOVE in the closing, and wants nothing to do with romantic correspondence. Agatha, however, hopes to meet Cousin Bella's glamorous model/actress mom, Aunt Zoe and decides to do James a sisterly favor and take over, writing Bella back, pretending to be James.

Agatha means well and tries to make James sound as boring as possible.

Dear Bella,
I am very boring. I do not like any of the things you like. My only hobby is spelling.

Like from James.

Agatha is immediately distracted from James' epistolary love life when her disconsolate friend Martha arrives at the door with bad news. Her mom has grounded her from playing soccer because of yet another torn jersey. Agatha promises to fix the problem, convincing her friend to join the school spelling team to get on her mom's good side. Martha moans that she's a terrible speller, but Agatha fills out and turns in an application for Martha anyway, along with one for her friends Ellie and Bianca.

And when their arch nemesis Gwendoline Tutt brags that she is going to rule the spelling team, Agatha and friends determine that somehow they must foil her selfish plan. But Martha is going to need a LOT of help.

And then good fortune arrives--in the form of an email reply from Cousin Bella.

Dear James,
THANK YOU FOR YOUR MESSAGE! Spelling is my favorite thing, too!!!! I am on the school spelling team. Today I got
Love from Bella

Agatha realizes that all the spelling teams are using the same words and that Bella's school team is just a week ahead of the Odd Street School team. All she has to do is keep pretending to be James and get Bella to email her words each week and even Martha can beat Gwendoline Tutt! But it might take perhaps some, er, more affectionate closings in those emails from James. Agatha writes Bella right back requesting her new words and closes with a Love from James. She has James describe himself as handsome and muscular and even throws in some XOXOXOs.

But Martha is proving to be a sorry speller even when she knows what the words will be, and the desperate plotters decide that in defeating Gwendoline Tutt, even a little more cheating is justified, Ellie volunteers to write the weekly words on her leg, under her sock, for Martha to copy.

Agatha is in over her head again this time, and when Martha balks at cheating, it looks like the "Dump Gwendoline" plan is a bust, and when the real Bella, with her mom, in town to film a commercial, makes a surprise visit at Agatha's house, Agatha is sure her cover is going to blown and she'll be in deep trouble big time, in Kjartan Poskitt's forthcoming latest in her Odd Street School series, Agatha Parrot and the Heart of Mud (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2016).

But for Agatha Parrot, it isn't over until it's over, in another zany venture into introductory chapter books for young independent readers from the spirited Agatha Parrot and her kooky friends. There's never a dull page with the ebullient Agatha on the case, and with the ample and quirky comic illustrations courtesy of Wes Hargis, every day at Odd Street School is guaranteed to be, well, odd, but a hoot.

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