Review Blog

Nov 15 2018

Lenny's book of everything by Karen Foxlee

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Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760528706
(Age: 10 - Adult) Highly recommended. Themes: Brothers and sisters. Physical impairments. Books and reading. Lenny's book of everything is a powerful, emotional and warm-hearted story seen through third-grader Lenny's eyes. She narrates in an intensely authentic style, we feel her anger, her joy, experience her dogged determination and her unwavering love of her younger brother Davey. Set in the early seventies, Karen Foxlee perfectly presents a credible world view, where men have just landed on the moon, knowledge comes from books and encyclopedias and children experience a freedom and responsibility different from today's world.
The Spink family live a hard knock life in a tiny apartment in Grayford, Ohio, opposite the Greyhound bus station. Peter Lenard Spink is a continually absent father looking for work in faraway places. He disappears when Davey turns five and leaves all the responsibilities to his hard-working wife Cynthia. Lenny's mother knows her son Davey is different, she has a dark feeling in her heart about his medical condition. Across the hall, their elderly Hungarian neighbour Mrs Gaspar lovingly babysits the children watching over the young boy as he rapidly grows from a healthy toddler to a large child.
When their mother enters and wins a competition for a set of Burrell's Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedias, their small world is opened up to the majesty and wonder of nature, far-off lands, animals, birds and insects. Each weekly delivery lets their imaginations soar, taking them out of their small existence. Lenny dwells on bugs and beetles, while Davey loves the birds of prey; he creates an imaginary golden eagle, Timothy, who helps him cope with his medical condition. Lenny and Davey dream of running away to Great Bear Lake, living a self-subsistent existence. Mum's acerbic letters to receive the free book covers to build the set, show her strength of character and her unwillingness to give up. Slowly, they become friends as she shares Davey's progressive illness with Burrell's General Sales Manager Martha Brent.
Foxlee's decision to begin the chapters with a record of the date and Davey's height are a portent of Davey's struggle with his form of gigantism. The author's ability to take us on a deeply emotional journey and place her story in a time before the impact of technology, makes this a novel for readers from ten to adulthood. The gorgeously detailed front cover with multiple layers, cut from old encyclopedias that outline the flying eagle is a wonderful entry into Lenny's book of everything. This book resonates with my 1960s childhood, when our world was made richer with a set of encyclopedias.
Rhyllis Bignell

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