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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the second book in the "Skinnybones" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Alex Frankovitch thinks highly of himself, and his words usually get him in trouble. For once, however, his caustic humor seems to be paying off. He’s won the Kitty Fritters essay contest by writing a letter that openly mocks the cat food. The Kitty Fritters executives are flying him to New York to film a commercial. Alex desperately hopes to impress his friends and vex his enemies, such as stuck-up Annabelle Posey. He anticipates the fame he will achieve and begins to annoy his parents with his arrogance.

Once in New York with Dad, Alex realizes he’s overestimated his own importance. The shabbily-dressed director of the commercial makes him work with a large, unprofessional cat. Alex must portray a much younger child who is running away and taking his beloved pet. He doesn’t have any lines but has to lift a gigantic bag of cat food into a wagon. The director and others on the set grow irritated with Alex’s demands and suggestions.

Alex leaves New York dissatisfied, doubting whether his commercial will impress anyone. When he gets home, his parents recognize his concern. They assure him the story of a boy looking out for his cat will touch TV viewing audiences. A few weeks later, Alex and his friend Brian are watching TV when the commercial comes on. To Alex’s dismay, Brian rolls on the floor with laughter. Alex is further humiliated at school when his classmates laugh about how wimpy he looked trying to lift the cat food bag.

Soon afterward, Alex sees a new opportunity to seize the spotlight. A magician called The Amazing Mel performs at a school assembly and asks for a volunteer. Alex rushes to the front and begins to show off, which gets him laughs from his peers. He’s convinced the applause at the end of the show is solely for him. Some of his classmates begin inviting him to hang out with them after his humorous performance. He brags to his parents about his coolness and talks about starting his own fan club.

One boy asks if Alex is going to try out for the Christmas play, and Alex decides he would be the perfect star of Scrooge. He attends tryouts, adding his own clever commentary to the script. He’s disappointed not to be cast as Scrooge, but as Tiny Tim. A boy named Albert gets Scrooge, and Alex’s nemesis, Annabelle, gets the role of Mrs. Cratchit. Since his parents won’t let him quit the play, Alex uses every opportunity to goof off and ad-lib when the director isn’t watching. Albert and Annabelle are annoyed and concerned about what will happen in the actual performance.

The night of the show, Albert gets a terrible case of stage fright. Alex purposely makes it worse by playing on Albert’s fears. When Albert locks himself in the bathroom and refuses to go on, the director calls on Alex to get Albert’s costume and play Scrooge. Alex faces a crisis of conscience. He knows he will be a big star if he takes the lead role, but he feels bad that his teasing drove Albert to this point. He goes into the bathroom and convinces Albert to go on. The director privately praises Alex for getting Albert to perform. He calls Alex a “quiet hero.”

Albert does a good job and achieves some fame of his own at school afterward. Alex is put off by Albert’s egotism. He starts to put Albert in his place by mentioning Albert’s anxiety on performance night. Alex stops himself before announcing Albert’s stage fright in front of the other kids.

Alex ends the book by saying he’s taking a break from the limelight at the moment. He’s just enjoying being himself, a quiet hero.

Christian Beliefs

Alex prays that everything will turn out OK and everyone will like his commercial. Brian says God probably doesn’t appreciate people praying for dumb little favors all the time, but Alex says he thinks that’s what God is there for. Alex mocks Annabelle for telling the class that God once came to her house for Sunday dinner. Alex imagines himself getting so famous that God would drop by for a meatball sandwich with him. Alex seems to view God as if He were a cosmic vending machine, rather than showing reverence for Him.

Other Belief Systems

Alex says he thinks Mother Nature made a mistake when she made Annabelle Posey.

Authority Roles

Alex’s parents are actively involved in his life. They alternate between encouraging him when he’s sad and talking him back to reality when his ego gets the upper hand. The director of the school play praises Alex for being a quiet hero when Alex convinces Albert to go onstage. Alex isn’t used to being encouraged for selfless, unseen acts, and it gives him new perspective.


The Lord’s name is used in vain several times. The word heck also appears a few times.



Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12




Barbara Park






Record Label



Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. (Reprinted in 2016)


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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