Title: Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace
Author: Nan Marino
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: April 16, 2013
Hardcover: 250 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: No, but I’m thinking of visiting. So maybe there’ll be a sighting in Jersey someday soon.
“Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace” is about an eleven-year old boy named Elvis Ruby who’s about as famous as Justin Bieber. As a contestant on an American Idol-esque reality tv show, at first he’s famous for all of the expected reasons: his haircut, his smile, his swoon factor. Then, he attracts a different kind of fame when he freezes up onstage in front of millions of viewers – and on Elvis Presley night, too, the night that everyone thought would win the contest for him. To escape the resulting backlash and negative press, he steals away to the Pinelands of New Jersey to live with Aunt Emily, a friend from his dad’s childhood, and her daughter, Millicent, who own a diner where they serve only pancakes.
That part of the plot sounds kind of lame, I know. I almost didn’t read the book because of it. Reality tv shows and singing sensations??? Sheesh! I also really dislike the cover, so that was another strike. But against all odds, I did read it. Because it also featured the Jersey Devil and a particular brand of folklore and mythology that I hadn’t yet been exposed to. I’d never even heard of the Pinelands, to be honest. (Don’t let the Jersey Devil know I told you that. Fey are supposed to support each other, believe in each other, and spread one another’s stories. I’ve been negligent, but I’m doing my part now). The Jersey Devil bit is an allegory and it helps to promote the book’s overall message: don’t let other people define you.
The story also features a girl named Cecilia, who stumbles upon Elvis’ secret on the night of his arrival before he even has a chance to establish his new identity as Aaron. Because she needs something from him, however, she promises not to blab… which makes her sound crass and cold, like she just uses people… but she’s not that. She’s wonderful. She wears giant owl glasses, which magnify her eyes, and bunny slippers. She believes in beauty and magic and happiness and possibility. She’s supposed to be the same age as Aaron, but she seems much younger – maybe because she’s lived in a rural area for her whole life while he’s been in the spotlight, living in New York City. Maybe because he’s lived through more heartache, experiencing the death of a parent. What she needs him to do is play his violin for the forest. That’s not a typo; I wrote it right. She doesn’t want him to play his violin in the forest, she wants him to play it for the forest. She believes that if he does that, it might convince the forest to sing back. The trees might make music like her mother used to believe they did on the night of Cecelia’s birth. Her mother seems to have lost her imagination and believes, now, only in science. Cecelia can’t accept that possibility. She wants her mother to believe in a happiness so great that it allows you to hear impossible, wondrous melodies. She wants her mom to believe in the inexplicable.
This was a beautiful story. It’s everything Children’s Literature should be. It’s innocent, yet meaningful; accessible, yet lyrical. You can bet I’ll be recommending it to oodles of kids at work – and to my coworkers. And to you.
At the end of my last blog post, I thought the last book I read had it all: “dragons, magicians, pistols, axes, romance and goiters.” ‘What more could you ask for?’, I asked. But somehow, “Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace” managed to surprise me by finding more: moist, rich and fudgy brownies filled with little morsels of chocolate chips, pancakes made with almond extract, stuffed animals loved beyond the point of recognition, still waters, pine smoke, and forgotten towns. There’s even a part where Elvis complains about the word “tween” (such a valid complaint!), and a character who dreams of being a Librarian in Hawaii.
It opens with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Music is perpetual, and only hearing is intermittent” and one from John McPhee (who I’ll have to look up later, when I have more time), “No one, of course, knows how it goes, but the Air Tune is there, everywhere, just beyond hearing.” If I had to describe it briefly (which I really should have, given the time constraints – but I find myself incapable), I’d say it’s Transcendentalism for Kids. It’s the OM made into Children’s Literature. Nature is music. Words are music. Nan Marino’s words are a song that I’d be happy to listen to all day long. I’ve never read anything else by her but I’ll surely be seeking it out now.
“Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace” is the best Children’s book I’ve read in a long time. Definitely better than Harry Potter. (Sorry, rabid fans. Despite my best efforts, I guess I’ll never be one of you, after all).
Pooka Rating: 4.75 out of 5 Nibbles
P.S. If anyone else has read this, please leave a comment and let me know. I have a theory about the ending and I’d like to know if you agree!