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Leon and the Spitting Image

Leon and the Spitting Image

4.8 16
by Allen Kurzweil, Bret Bertholf

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This book is about a hotel full of animals. And an evil ice maker. And glass eyeballs -- oh, and really old panty hose and Possibly Fake Hair. But mostly, it's about Leon Zeisel and his epic quest to survive fourth grade, despite his teacher, Miss Hagmeyer, and his archenemy, Lumpkin the Pumpkin, a human tank with a deadly dodgeball throw. Luckily, Leon has friends


This book is about a hotel full of animals. And an evil ice maker. And glass eyeballs -- oh, and really old panty hose and Possibly Fake Hair. But mostly, it's about Leon Zeisel and his epic quest to survive fourth grade, despite his teacher, Miss Hagmeyer, and his archenemy, Lumpkin the Pumpkin, a human tank with a deadly dodgeball throw. Luckily, Leon has friends who will stand by him even if his magical plans for rescue and revenge involve ... SPIT!

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Linn-Baker effortlessly inhabits the character of Leon Zeisel, a beleaguered fourth-grader with troubles at school that are larger (and weirder) than most kids'. As the first day of school approaches, Leon already feels a sense of defeat. He has peeked into his mother's papers and surreptitiously read a confidential file about his school performance to this point. Teachers' evaluations from the Classical School label him "clumsy" and "delayed," especially when it comes to demonstrating fine motor skills. That doesn't bode well when his fourth grade teacher turns out to be a strict and strange woman with a Velcroed-on wig, super-human hearing and a lesson plan that includes sewing a menagerie of stuffed animals throughout the year. As the school year and Leon's sewing ability progress, however, he finds a magical key to making his life a whole lot easier. Listeners will quickly be hooked by the goofy character traits and mysterious plot elements here, delivered in Linn-Baker's crisp, accomplished style. He consistently sounds chipper or downtrodden as the situation demands. As the title may suggest, kids will also delight in the fact that Leon's eventual triumph involves a good amount of spit. Ages 8-up. (Oct. 2003). Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Fourth-grader Leon Zeisel lives in a one-star hotel where his mother is night manager. Since it's New York, he takes a cab to school each day, collecting taxi-drivers'countries for a hobby. Most of the story, though, takes place at the Classical School, where we discern immediately that this is a fantasy since no real school would employ a teacher like Miss Hagmeyer, who dresses like a witch, wears a Velcro-attached wig, and builds her assignments around sewing and medieval studies. (Actually, a field trip to the Cloisters is the best part of the story.) While the character of klutzy Leon derives a modicum of interest from his unusual home and the people who work there, his school friends are the typical cast: nerdy best friend, supportive female friend, the spoiled princess, the bully. The author doesn't fail to include the gross elements seemingly obligatory for this age group, a pickle jar of the coach's tobacco-dyed spit looming large in the plot (Don't read this while eating!). A complicated narrative involving the sewing of "animiles," humiliation by the bully, and controlling Miss Hagmeyer through a magic doll sewn by Leon takes the class (and none too soon) to the end of the year, a medieval fair, and a plan for future revenge on the bully. Middle readers may be relieved that Leon makes fifth grade by whatever means, but much of his journey is too tedious for willing suspension of disbelief. 2003, Greenwillow, Ages 9 to 11.
— Barbara L. Talcroft
After receiving a particularly gloomy progress report from his school, Leon Zeisel dreads fourth grade more than ever. Leon, who lives in a one-star hotel, The Trimore, and arrives at school every day in a taxi, attends The Classical School along with his friends P.W. and Lily Matisse, and his archenemy, Lumpkin. Leon's new teacher, Miss Hagmeyer, promises more scholastic agony than usual with the announcement of a mysterious yearlong sewing project. Leon, who is all thumbs, is in danger of repeating fourth grade until he creates a doll image of Miss Hagmeyer that exerts a strange power over the teacher herself. Realizing the potential for mayhem, Leon and his friends team up to solve the mystery and defeat the bully with the help of their magical doll. This book is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Rife with bullies, nasty teachers, and spit, the story further boasts an underdog main character who is likeable and quirky. Kurzweil's memorable touches, such as Miss Hagmeyer's array of eyes and Leon's collection of cab drivers from around the world, keep the plot freshly piquant. Leon's never-ending and often gross series of escapes will amuse younger readers, holding their interest through Leon's painfully long fourth grade year. This book will appeal to younger middle school readers who like Snicket and Ibbotson and who want a new take on an old tale. It is recommended for school and public libraries. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2003, HarperCollins, 320p., and PLB Ages 11 to 14.
—Caitlin Augusta
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-A comic story with a touch of wish-fulfillment fantasy. Leon lives in the rather wacky and seedy New York City hotel where his mother works. The Ethical School, which puts particular emphasis on handicrafts, presents a problem for him, as he is challenged in the area of fine motor skills. The villain of the piece is Leon's fourth-grade teacher, Miss Cronheim, who wears pantyhose the color of cooked liver and who has a curriculum based on the sewing of stuffed animals. In response to a threat that he may have to repeat the year, Leon sews a doll that is the "spitting image" of the teacher and by chance discovers that by manipulating it into different poses, Miss Cronheim follows suit as if in a trance. Leon and two friends then plot to get her to put a pair of her pantyhose over the head of the school bully. Kurzweil's humor is light and funny in relation to Leon's home life and friendships, but has more of an edge to it in the school-related scenes. The author handles the element of magic in a believable way. Less credible, however, is the speed with which his hero changes from being a "two stitches per inch" sewer to being capable of making a doll that looks like a human, even to the gnarls in the ears. If readers can suspend disbelief, they will enjoy the entertainment that Leon and his friends provide.-Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
At least as appealing as fictional toilets and underpants, is spit, which figures prominently in this tale of wish-fulfillment. Leon, developmentally delayed in manual dexterity, is bedeviled by his stitchery-obsessed fourth-grade teacher whose requirement for promotion is a "masterpiece" sewn with 11 stitches per inch. Leon crafts a perfect replica of his teacher and discovers that, by soaking it in the Coach's tobacco spit he can move the doll, magically controlling Miss Hagmeyer's behavior. The results are food fights between teachers and gravity-defying displays of jump-rope proficiency. This contains a collection of goofy secondary characters, including Leon's supportive mother who works nights in a hotel that welcomes pets, and a monster of a hotel ice machine that keeps Leon sleep-deprived. The plot veers giddily out of control as Leon and his friends scheme revenge against the teacher and the school bully, leaving some of the most interesting characters and plot strands behind. This will probably not matter to young readers who think that spit is the funniest thing since underpants. (Fiction. 8-10)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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4 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Leon and the Spitting Image

Chapter One

The Envelope

The night before the start of fourth grade, Leon Zeisel was on pins and needles. He lay in bed thinking about just one thing. An envelope.

Leon had first discovered the envelope one week earlier, while poking through his mom's desk. The envelope had attracted his attention for a simple reason. His name was written across the front in thick block letters. For a brief moment he had thought the envelope might contain a special surprise -- tickets to a Yankees–Red Sox doubleheader would have been sweet -- but that dream disappeared as soon as he noticed the school seal and a single word stamped in blood-red ink:


That warning did the trick. Curious though he was, Leon shoved the unopened envelope back inside the desk.

But after a few days, curiosity turned into concern, and concern then turned into terror. Which was why, the night before school started, Leon slipped out of bed and made a beeline back to his mom's desk. Once there, he pulled the middle drawer halfway out. That released a catch on the slim side drawer. Don't rush, he told himself. Mom's working late.

Leon squinched his eyes shut and clucked his tongue. Only after completing his good-luck routine did he remove the envelope, undo its clasp, lift the flap, and inspect the contents -- three sheets of paper, each with the phrase home report centered at the top. His fingers started shaking and his heart started thumping as it dawned on him that he was holding a top-secret history of his life at the Classical School.

Leon took a deep breath and began to read. Page one came from his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Sloat. She wrote: "Given the tragic loss of his father, it is not surprising that Leon is a tad delayed in the domain of manual dexterity."

Leon sighed. He didn't like being called delayed. And bringing in his dad -- who had died in a freak accident at a fireworks factory when Leon was four -- felt like a cheap shot.

He went back to Mrs. Sloat's assessment: "Leon's frustration most regularly expresses itself during craft time. He completed his macaroni necklace only with a great deal of assistance. And although a macaroni necklace might not seem important, it is. For here at the Classical School, our motto has always been, 'Nimble fingers make for nimble minds.'"

Geez! How many times had he heard that stupid saying!

Leon recalled only one thing about Mrs. Sloat, and the memory wasn't pleasant. He remembered her badgering him to stick his hands in Play-Doh and to feel the squishiness. Leon hadn't liked squishiness back in first grade, and he didn't like squishiness now.

He turned to page two. It came from his second-grade teacher, Miss Toothacre. Her report was just as grim. Miss Toothacre wrote, "Leon continues to be hampered by a troubling lack of fine motor skills."

That was another dumb thing he had heard a thousand times. Leon knew only too well that "lack of fine motor skills" had nothing to do with fancy cars. Teachers used the expression to avoid calling him a klutz.

The comment hurt. Suppose he was hampered; wasn't that Miss Toothacre's fault? She was the one cramming him into a bogus confidential report. Didn't that make her the hamperer?

Leon wiped his nose on the sleeve of his pajamas and braced himself for the third-grade report. It was now Mr. Joost's turn to get his licks in. Mr. Joost wrote, "Leon's handwriting is significantly below grade level, and he is challenged by even the most basic manual tasks, such as tying his laces. At this juncture, I would seriously encourage corrective measures. One suggestion: Flute lessons might improve his finger movement."

Leon had always wondered why his mother forced him to take music classes with Miss Brunelleschi. Now he knew.

The home reports felt like strikes one, two, and three. And that made it all the more odd that the only nice words in the whole secret history came from Skip Kasperitis, the former minor-league pitcher who taught PE.

Coach Kasperitis wrote, "Leon is a real treat and a very special kid. His coordination needs work, but there's no question he's a champ. And if he ever learns to master his passion, I'll tell you this, Leon Zeisel is the kind of kid who could make magic."

Leon and the Spitting Image. Copyright © by Allen Kurzweil . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Allen Kurzweil is a prize-winning novelist, children's writer, inventor, and journalist. His work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, Smithsonian, and Vanity Fair. He is a graduate of Yale University and the recipient of Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Bret Bertholf is a painter, writer, musician, and the yodeling singer for Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams, an acclaimed traditional country/western band, as well as the coordinator of children's events at the Tattered Cover Book Store. The artist is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Leon And The Spitting Image (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the best I read this book in the ofurth grade &nd this is like a 200 page book &nd I read it (: This book is suitable for anyone. IT IS HILARIOUS!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so halarious!!!!!!When I picked this book up I couldn't put it down it was so good! If you can't find an good book to read I would definyly pick this one out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!![It's also good for book club's too!!]
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I realy like this book. I am alittle too old for it now (i am ten) but i recoment it for third grade and fourth grade.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome! Its so good i wish there were ten more of these books! I can not wait to read the next one!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever, I never wanted to put this book down it was so good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would never pay that much for this book. I own a paperback version, gotten at goodwill. They are also found at the library, so check your local one.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loveit allot! !!??!!''
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lov this book it is amazig i remember the day it came out at the public library ahh reading is beatiful.:) you love to read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The auther is coming to my school!!!!!!!!! Best book ever
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Debbie Greenspan More than 1 year ago
this story is very very well writen and im a writer. too
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although he's probably most widely known for his role on TV's 'Perfect Stranger,' actor Mark Linn- Baker has an impressive resume. His Broadway credits include 'A Year With Frog and Toad,' 'A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum,' 'Doonesbury,' and 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor.' In addition, he is a producing director of New York Stage and Film. Linn-Baker's voice is so dextrous that he easily becomes an imaginative fourth grader or Miss Hagmeyer, a teacher who makes the Wicked Witch of the West look kind and has ears that look like 'giant rotting mushrooms.' He could probably read a dictionary and make it fun, but that's not necessary as 'Leon and the Spitting Image' is a laugh provoking story that will have 4 - 6 graders nodding heads and grinning in approval. Leon Zeisel lives in New York City in a rather rundown hotel where his mother is employed. Actually, being rundown isn't the most interesting aspect of the hotel - it's a hotel for animals. However that's not really a problem for Leon because he's worried about having to repeat the fourth grade. He attends a school that judges students by their skill at handicrafts - an ability definitely lacking in Leon. Plus, he has to face a dreadful bully - Lumpkin the Pumpkin who taunts and torments him with a dodgeball. Leon has no alternative but to come up with something acceptable that he has made with his hands. Believe it or not, he sews a doll that is the spitting image of the mean Miss Hagmeyer. Not only is the image precise, but this doll has magic powers - when moved Miss Hagmeyer does the same thing as if hypnotized. Revenge has never been so sweet or funny. - Gail Cooke
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so funny and fun to read. A quick read and a good read! Highly Recommended!!