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For Readers Age 9 - 12
Grades 4th - 8th

The Boy of a Thousand Faces - Book Review
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Publisher's Description:

Selznick, Brian. (2000) The Boy of a Thousand Faces. New York, NY: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-026265-6. Ages 9+; grades 4-8.

Because Alonzo King was born on Halloween, he has always loved monsters. But no one would ever guess that he lives in a haunted house with a graveyard out back, communicates with the dead, turns into a six-armed, slime-covered creature, or is a walking encyclopedia on horror films! However, when The Beast arrives, not even Alonzo can track it down. Will he be able to solve the mystery of the creature stalking his town and make his dream of becoming The Boy of a Thousand Faces come true?

Respect for self and others:This includes integrity (adherence to a code of conduct or value system), honesty vs. manipulation or lying, compassion, caring for others (characters not focused on getting their way no matter what) self respect--main character does not let others denigrate him or her; use of self control and self-discipline ; taking charge of own behaviour; fairness to others (such as taking turns and avoiding the blame game). Reader should ask themselves “How does the protagonist depict their peers?” “Would you want others to treat you this way? Should everyone act this way?” This includes true friendships that do not involve regular lying, deceit or manipulation; considering consequences of actions prior to acting; owning up to responsibility once an action has been taken.

Because of his interests in classic horror flicks, 10 year-old Alonzo doesn’t seem to fit in with his peers. He has no one with which to share this keen, yet unusual, interest. Rather than dwelling on this difference, the author shows us how Alonzo carries on with his interest. Recognition of one’s strengths and persistence in following one’s passion is illuminated well, maintaining an optimistic feel even when Alonzo is flustered about “The Beast”.

This pursuit of passion pays off as peers recognize Alonzo as the expert when The Beast surfaces. The book’s main character demonstrates honest behavior, sincere self-talk, and respect for self and others.

Portrayal of Authority figures:The positive portrayal of parents, teachers, police officers and other “good” authority figures common in a child’s life is a positive influence upon the child’s own moral development. This includes actively-parenting mother and father figures. Minimization of parental involvement in the character’s activities or the portrayal of authority figures as inferior present poor role models. Also to be avoided are main characters that deceive parents and teachers to accomplish goals, and overuse sarcasm towards authority figures. Ask yourself “Are parents seen as positive or negative influence in the character's life?”

The key authority figure is Mr. Blake, neighbor and postman. He epitomizes the good neighbor-next-door so often portrayed in entertainment of a bygone era (and how we should hope to be today). Mr. Blake cares about Alonzo but also the neighborhood families too. Other authority figures are briefly portrayed as expected for this time period and include Alonzo’s mother and school principal.

Citizenship and Patriotism:Loyalty to family, team or group, school, community and world; caring for and being considerate of these groups. Pride to be part of that group or nationality.

The main character abides by all rules, is productive in school and responsible at home. At the end, his pride is based upon a surprise that fills the community with joy. These then imply pride and joy of inclusion in family, school and community.

Justice and Balance:A just distribution between good and evil (with good outweighing evil in the presence of the storyline); demonstration of right and wrong; making decisions to enact the above values rather than simply choosing from two bad possibilities; Ask yourself “Is the emphasis on the positive elements or negative?”

This book demonstrates good choices. Alonzo could use his secret to gain popularity with peers or manipulate adults, but these thoughts never cross his mind. From the onset, this main character is focused on dispelling falsehoods and illuminating truths.

Aesthetic aspects Of life ExperienceLook for a storyline portrayal of beauty, health, and selfless love vs. hedonistic behaviours (sexuality, selfishness, obsessiveness, materialism), profanity, gore and violence. Are nature and environment respected or exploited? Look for dark elements; watch out for humor that is negative, denigrates others excessively, uses metaphors to denigrate the sacred.

With a focus on innocence and fun, this is yet another example of how the absence of the vulgar and profane allow the beauty of a story to emerge. Rather than emphasize negative peer relations, denigration of others, profanity or gore, Selznick maintains the high road and masterfully demonstrates achieving dreams with self-less behaviour, the artistic beauty of this genre of classic flicks, and a nostalgic feeling for an era-gone-by in America.

Other things to Consider:Other aspects of this book of interest or importance. For example, does it portray Wiccan practices and accurate use of tools of which some parents might object, does it contain hidden meanings in metaphors that may prove offensive to some families; does it address personal issues such as puberty or pregnancy.

Some families, for religious or cultural reasons, do not celebrate Halloween and are not supportive of it. This story’s main character is born on Halloween and the story’s finale takes place on Halloween. Trick-or-treating is mentioned, but otherwise the holiday itself is not dwelt upon. Rather, the author keeps to its storyline, and this clean, succinct approach gives it strength. Halloween becomes almost coincidental as it merely creates opportunity for the events that take place.

As a book intended for elementary school, the author creates characters who address age-appropriate problems in a positive and productive manner. Excellent book for the entire family to enjoy!

So what do YOU think? Read our thoughts on the book and join in the discussion at our Litland Reviews blog!

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