Every parent or teacher's dream is to find that elusive young person's book that's both entertaining and inspiring. This, the story of Mickey Vernon, pool hall prodigy, is one of those special books. Mickey's voice, immediately engaging, is that of an authentic, tough-talking ten-year-old. His arduous effort to beat an older bully at his own game, live up to his late father's awesome reputation, and overcome his own shortcomings is an object lesson in the virtues of persistence. Bauer introduces the young reader to the intricacies of the game of pool, and, along the way, illuminates the practical application of mathematical theory the successful pool player understands. Her humorous, carefully observed characters face mounting challenges on the way to Mickey's ultimate victory in the Junior Nine-Ball Championship, a victory every reader will understand is more than just a poolroom trophy. It's a young boy's rite of passage, a worthy theme for any writer, and one that Bauer has handled in an original, affecting manner. 1996, Penguin Putnam/Puffin Books,
Gr 5-8Fifth-grader Mickey Vernon dreams of becoming the youth division billiards champion of his New Jersey town. The fact that his grandmother owns a pool hall allows him plenty of time to practice, but obstacles still lie in his way. The biggest one is Buck Pender, three years older than Mickey and the archetypal bruising, bullying lug of a villain. However, Mickey must also deal with the emotional trauma of his father's death. The reappearance of the mysterious pool ace, Joseph Alvarez, who was Mickey's father's best friend, also tips his world off balance. Helping the boy cope with all of these upheavals is his nerdy math-brain friend, Arlen Pepper, who provides some technical advice about the game. Predictably, Mickey wins the nine-ball tournament, despite a sprained wrist. Yet, the story's conventional plot elements are redeemed by the on-target first-person narration. Mickey is a feisty and often funny hero. Other elements of the story are also nicely balanced. For example, Alvarez could have easily been a stereotypehe rides into town in his truck, dressed and talking like a cowboy, ready to teach young Mickey the lessons of the game (and life). Mickey's down-to-earth mother, however, treats the man like the bag of hot air that he is. Overall, the winning characterizations may make this a book to be enjoyed by kids who like pool and even some who don't.Todd Morning, Schaumburg Township Public Library, IL
Ten-year-old Mickey Vernon wants to win the Pool Hall Youth Championship more than anything, but his chances of beating the competition--obnoxious 13-year-old Buck Pender--are slim until Joseph Alvarez, an old friend of the family, comes back to town and agrees to be Mickey's pool coach. The story of pool and how it is played is a riveting aspect of the novel, which also tells about the family pool hall, Mickey's sister's restlessness, and the science project based on pool that Mickey and his math-whiz friend, Arlene, put together. Bauer's characterizations are well drawn, their personalities three-dimensional even when they only appear briefly, and Mickey is not only a credible 10-year-old but also a likable narrator. Good characters, humor, and an engaging plot make this a solid piece of middle-grade fiction.
Fifth grader Mickey Vernon has a dreamto be the winner of the nine-ball tournament for the 1013 set, held right in his own family's pool hall. Mickey's a pretty good pool shark, but he has to beat bully Buck Pender, 13, to win. Mickey's father, who died when his son was a baby, was a nine-ball ace; how can Mickey follow in his footsteps? "Pool is pure geometry, plus a little physics," says Mickey. His best friend, a math whiz named Arlen, helps him with shots, but Mickey's hopes really soar when an old friend of his father's resurfaces, offering to coach the boy. The only problem is Mickey's mothershe doesn't trust the man and won't let Mickey spend time with him.
Mickey's authentic voice draws readers right into the story. As did Sid Hite in An Even Break (1995), Bauer (Thwonk, 1995, etc.) sets up a good, clear conflict and confidently weaves in subplots. Characters both major and minor come to life, a recurring math theme ties things together, and Cruckston, New Jersey, emerges as a town with a lot more heart than its seedy exterior suggests.