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The Wonder Kid

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Overview

It’s 1954, a year when polio, known as the great crippler of children, terrified parents. Jesse’s mom won’t let him go to the playground or hang out with friends for fear that he will catch the disease—so Jesse stays home, making up his own games with his grandfather and dog, Gort.

No matter what Jesse does, he can’t seem to please his father, who wanted a basketball-baseball-football kind of son. Instead, Jesse spends his days drawing ...

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Overview

It’s 1954, a year when polio, known as the great crippler of children, terrified parents. Jesse’s mom won’t let him go to the playground or hang out with friends for fear that he will catch the disease—so Jesse stays home, making up his own games with his grandfather and dog, Gort.

No matter what Jesse does, he can’t seem to please his father, who wanted a basketball-baseball-football kind of son. Instead, Jesse spends his days drawing pictures, watching cowboy movies, and playing war with his army of metal soldiers.

Then polio strikes, paralyzing Jesse’s legs. With the help of an unlikely girlfriend, Jesse turns his imagination to creating comic strips, reinterpreting his life as The Wonder Kid, with the power to make things happen by thinking them.

In this strange summer of UFOs and fallout shelters and deadly hurricanes, Jesse discovers just how much he has in common with his father and what it really means to be a hero.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Harrar adeptly maintains a boy's perspective while inserting humor, trivia, and historical information into an otherwise harrowing situation.
School Library Journal
Children's Literature - Wendy Glenn
It is the summer of 1954, and eleven-year-old Jesse James MacLean's mother forces him to stay away from other kids out of fear of contracting polio, the great crippler of children. To pass the time, Jesse hangs out with his grandfather, plays games with his dog, draws pictures, and watches cowboy movies. Jesse's dad, a traveling salesman, is away from home for long stretches. For Jesse, however, that is just fine. He knows his dad wants little to do with, him given his small stature and lack of interest in basketball and baseball. Jesse's isolation is not enough to protect him, however; he contracts polio and suffers the paralyzation of his legs. With the help of Collie, a girl from school who visits Jesse when no other child is willing to be near him, he learns of his own inner strength. He channels his artistic imagination into the creation of comic book character The Wonder Kid, a polio victim who has the power to make things happen by thinking them, and ultimately learns to walk again. In the process, he discovers just how much he and his father have in common, despite Jesse's assumptions to the contrary. Jesse's voice is believable and honest. Young readers will identify with the combination of anger and guilt he feels toward his father, the desire and confusion he experiences as a result of first love, and the frustration and loss he faces as a result of his illness. Throughout, readers are given a glimpse into Jesse's creative abilities through the inclusion of his doodles and, later, comic strip pictures. They will exit the reading experience having a much richer understanding of life in 1954 and the effect of disease on a community and one of its youthful members.
School Library Journal

Gr 4–7
Through the first-person narrative of 11-year-old Jesse James MacLean, Harrar creates an honest, if stereotypical look at the 1950s. In a small town outside Philadelphia, fear runs rampant as the second wave of "President Roosevelt's disease" threatens to strike its young victims. Jesse's overprotective mother insists that he stay indoors during the summer of 1954. He spends his days drawing, reading comic books, and making up games. Never quite living up to his "tough-guy" father's expectations, the boy has a special relationship with his grandfather. Jesse's world is turned upside down when Gramps dies, and, despite his mother's diligent efforts, he contracts polio. The grueling muscle exercises that follow are tempered by the frequent visits of a classmate who offers not only friendship, but also encouragement as Jesse invents a comic-strip hero, the Wonder Kid, whose polio has given him special powers of good. Although Jesse's father softens late in the story, he never quite redeems himself. Harrar adeptly maintains a boy's perspective while inserting humor, trivia, and historical information into an otherwise harrowing situation. Winiarski's pen-and-ink sketches are small and scantily placed, yet contribute to the story's lighthearted tone. For a more serious look at the devastating effect of polio, look to Julie Johnston's Hero of Lesser Causes (Tundra, 2003).
—D. Maria LaRoccoCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618563173
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/24/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

George Harrar is the author of several novels and numerous short stories, one of which was chosen for the 1999 edition of The Best American Short Stories. Harrar lives in Wayland, Massachusetts, with his wife, Linda, a documentary filmmaker.

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