The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. Grades 4-8. Scholastic, 2009. 218 pages. Review copy provided by publisher for Young Hoosier Book Award consideration. (This review reflects only my own opinion, not the opinion of the commitee!)
When Homer Figg's dear older brother is sold into the Union army against his will, Homer sets off to bring him home. Homer has no idea of the dangers he'll face, but he figures he owes it to the brother who took care of him for so many years. Still, it'll take pluck and a quick tongue to help an Underground Railroad conductor, join a traveling medicine show as the Amazing Pig Boy, take to the sky in a hot air balloon, and save his brother by trying to kill him. Luckily, Homer's got plenty of both.
Confession: I read this book when it first came out and I didn't know what the heck I was doing because I kinda set it aside as "not my kind of book" and didn't really think about it again. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
On the reread, I discovered what an absolute joy this book is. From the very first page, I sank into Homer Figg's story (easy to do, since Homer is nothing if not a boy who loves his stories - no matter what form they happen to take). This is a book that begs to be read aloud. Homer's voice and the language Rodman Philbrick uses is just delightful.
Throughout the book are references to the importance of story in all its many forms. Yes, this is a historical adventure story with a good dose of humor, but it's also a testament to the power of tales. Tales take many forms in this book - the lies Homer spins, hometown legends, fairy tales, songs, even tattooed ladies have stories to tell...
This book is also a testament to brotherly love and the lengths to which one brother will go to help the other. It's about finding bravery you didn't know was inside you. And, of course, it's about laughing at yourself the whole way through.
I'd highly recommend this to fans of Christopher Paul Curtis's historical fiction and it particularly reminded me of Elijah of Buxton, set around the same time.
A note on the cover: I much, MUCH prefer the paperback cover, so that's the one I've used for this review. I think a more photo-realistic image packs more kid appeal and I love the little smirk on Homer's face.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg is on shelves now!