When I think of children's book authors, Carl Hiaasen is not the first name that springs to mind. I've read a number of Hiaasen's books and never once did I think to myself, this man should write children's books. In fact, normally his zany and gritty tales of Florida are the exact opposite of a classic kids book. Hiaasen writes about crime and dirt and corruption. And when it comes to Hoot, a Newbery Award honor book, he does it perfectly for the young adult audience.
Hoot follows Roy (or Cowgirl as his not-quite friends call him), a young boy who's just moved to Florida from Montana. Roy has problems and he has them in spades. He's the new kid in school with all that implies, he's attracted the attention of the school bully who wants to beat him to a pulp, and he's just discovered a mysterious boy named Mullet Fingers who's involved in a personal crusade against a national pancake company. A huge pancake company has decided to open a restaurant in the small town that Roy lives in. That should be cause for excitement and is until Roy finds out that there are endangered burrowing owls who have made a home on the site that the restraunt will be built on. Roy, Mullet Fingers, and Mullet Finger's sister Beatrice decide to stop them, using some rather unusual means. If you have read Hiaasen before, you know what kinds of antics his characters can get into. If you haven't...well what are you doing. Why aren't you at the library picking up one of his books?
As an environmentalist and a believer in animal rights, I was completely in love with this book from the beginning. Hiassen's message of anti-development rings so true with me. Hiassen often talks about corporate greed and its impact on the environment. Here he offers us a couple of heros that are willing to stand up against corporate greed, even if it means no pancakes. The kids get their point across through a wonderful mixture of vandalism and law-abiding routes (Mullet Fingers on the vandalism side and Roy on the law abiding). This is a book about standing up for what you believe in no matter how unpopular it is.
But it's not as preachy as that sounds. Instead Hiaasen uses humor to get his point across. From the opening scene, where Roy first sees Mullet Fingers while having his face smooshed against the glass by the school bully, you know you're in for a story that's both touching and humorous. Roy is not a violent kid and he goes about helping Mullet Fingers (and dealing with his bully), in funny ways. The pranks that Mullet Fingers pulls on the construction contractor are hilarious with just a slight touch of danger. The contractor and the police officer dealing with the case start off as charactures and become real people during the course of the book. But they are still the bumbling idiots of the tale. And in the end (after all the humor is done) you come away with a great environmental message. I have to take back my earlier words. Hiaasen can write children's books. And he'll do it with humor.