By Author / Illustrator
Pushkin Children's Books
Paperback / softback
Lenny Spink is the sister of a giant. Her little brother Davey won't stop growing - and at seven is as tall as a man.
When they receive their monthly instalment of Burrell's Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia set, fun and excitement burst into Lenny and Davey's lives. The amazing, mysterious entries in the book's pages give them a way to dream of escape: Lenny vows to become a beetle expert, while Davey decides he will run away to Canada and build a log cabin. But as Davey's disease progresses, the siblings' richly imagined world becomes harder to cling to in this deeply moving and original novel about grief, family and wonder.
'Holy Batman, this is a gorgeous, heartbreaking, and heartwarming book' - R.J. Palacio, author of Wonder
This is a simply marvellous book; beautifully written and crammed with detail and richness. I would recommend it for older readers as there is a huge amount that is never spelled out but is not really suitable for younger children, possibly not even the oldest and most mature Year 6.
Lenny Spink is Davey's big sister and she narrates his story and her own. Davey is a giant, he won't stop growing and by the age of six is as tall as an adult. The siblings are close and their world revolves around life with their single mother and a kindly neighbour in 1970s America.
Then Burrell's Build-it-at-home Encyclopaedia comes into their lives, each issue filled with fascinating facts that open their eyes to a larger world beyond their small apartment. Lenny decides to become a beetle expert after reading about beetles in the B section. Davey loves the birds of prey and has an imaginary pet eagle. Both of them dream about running away and living in the wild in Canada.
As time goes by it becomes clearer that Davey's height is a real problem that cannot just be brushed aside. The characters are all beautifully drawn and the emotion laid bare. The detail of the story is all the more remarkable because Karen Foxlee is in fact Australian. She has recreated an entirely believable time and place and filled it with characters who you might almost recognise if you met them.
This book is both heart-breaking and wonderful.
352 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Jacqueline Harris, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 11+
This is one of those quirky stories which is very hard to place in a category and to suggest a readership. Set in the US in the 1970s, it tells of a Lenny (Lenore), her mother and her brother Davey who just keeps growing. Their father, after many journeys away, simply does not return one day so they are a single parent family, reliant on Mum working and childcare from Mrs Gaspar, their Hungarian neighbour.
The children become to rely heavily on the encyclopedia which comes in installments and which the family won as a prize. The children devour the information within the sets as they arrive, Davey longing to build a log cabin, and they do hatch a plan to run away to Great Bear Lake and do just that. Davey's growth is diagnosed after an overnight greyhound bus journey to Chicago as a tumour in his brain, Surgery stops him growing for a time but the tumour returns, and eventually, he dies.
Most readers will flag up very early on that Davey is not going to survive, and this looming tragedy does weigh heavily. Lenny is a spunky girl, devoted to Davey, but also almost obsessed with the study of insects. Her observations of their neighbour Mrs Gaspar, who looks after them, are sharp, as is her view of their mother's suitor Mr. King, whom the reader knows will not have a chance as the children do not like him at all. Indeed Lenny throws a brick through the rear window of his pickup truck. Lenny also searches for some relations and is heartbreakingly taken in by a lonely old lady who plays along with her need to find her father.
This is not a book for every child and could easily be ready by adults. The American setting, the details of life in a small town, the observations of the relationship between Lenny and Davey, do make for a reading experience not like many others. It is strange therefore that this is written by an Australian writer who has chosen to write about the US. Karen Foxlee has also chosen to not base Davey's condition exactly on fact, and should a child who is taller than the average pick this story up it would need sensitive handling.
Readers of 12+ could cope with this story of an intensely-observed family life, illness and impending death, although it will raise some questions for which adults would need to be prepared.
352 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+