One part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one part kids quiz show, The GollyWhopper Games (2009) combines a child’s fantasy (Gil Goodson is part of the ultimate challenge that takes place in a toy factory) with competition (Gil has to finish puzzles and challenges to win the ultimate prize, competing against his neighborhood friends and enemies) and a modern twist (video cameras follow his every move, a tactic that today’s Reality TV kids will appreciate).
As an adult, this book wasn’t that thrilling for me to read, honestly, but I think that my fifth grade students would love it. I could see them stopping to figure out each challenge with Gil, competing along with him, and loving the conflict in the book—that Gil’s father was fired from the GollyWhopper toy company and Gil is in the competition to avenge his family’s honor and win enough money to move out of town.
As an instructional book, this would make a great read aloud. While I read it, I found myself pausing with questions that I would ask if I was reading it aloud to a class. Most of my questions were about author choices: Why did Feldman choose this cast of characters? (A mix of strangers that Gil did like and people that Gil knew but didn’t like.) Why did she give Carol, the woman who instructs the kids through the competition, such a sarcastic voice? Why does Feldman choose to have Gil fail after the maze challenge? Why does she have him then come back for the climax of the story? What hints and foreshadowing does Feldman include? How do you think she organized her thoughts as she wrote to include them all at just the right spot in the book?