Reviews for Worm Whisperer

Booklist Reviews 2012 December #2
Ellis Coffey's life has its difficulties: Dad is injured and unemployed, but he can't get back surgery until he finds $1,000 for the deductible; Mom works three jobs to make ends meet; and Ellis' social life suffers because he spends after-school hours doing chores. Still, his love of animals convinces him he might be a worm whisperer, and he sets out to prove it by training a caterpillar for the annual Woolly Worm Race, where first prize is--you guessed it--$1,000. Naturally things don't work out as expected, but Ellis learns that there is more than one way to reach a goal. Set in Banner Elk, North Carolina (where a Woolly Worm Festival occurs each fall), Hicks' story provides plenty of local color as well as humor (Ellis can burp the national anthem). Side plots concerning a crush, a bully, and a teacher obsessed with vocabulary building enhance this story, and memorable scenes (Ellis and his caterpillar's adventures in church, for example) make this a great read-aloud. Hatke's genial spot illustrations are standard but welcome. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2013 Fall
If Ellis can train a woolly worm to finish first in the town's Worm Festival Race, the prize money would enable his dad to get surgery he needs, and Ellis would swap his reputation as class clown for a more serious one. In this light novel, Ellis's character rings true, and Hicks unobtrusively includes classroom-friendly features, such as information about metamorphosis.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2013 #1
Ellis's father has sustained a back injury that requires an operation, but the family can't come up with the deductible to finance it, despite the fact that Ellis's mother is working constantly to make ends meet. He manages a number of chores to help out but occasionally escapes to spend some quiet time in the forest neighboring his Banner Elk, North Carolina, home. And there Ellis discovers his possible potential: he appears to be able to communicate with animals. What if he can train a woolly worm to finish first in the town's Worm Festival Race? The prize money would enable his dad to get the surgery he needs, and Ellis would, in turn, swap his reputation as class clown for a more serious one. Within this light novel Hicks unobtrusively includes classroom-friendly features, such as a weekly vocabulary lesson and information about metamorphosis, but these elements don't interfere with the trajectory of the story line. Ellis's character (and his down-on-its-luck family) rings true; and no, he doesn't win the big prize, but he earns recognition and friendships. betty carter

Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #1
Animal-obsessed Ellis Coffey hopes his pet woolly caterpillar will win the race at the Banner Elk Woolly Worm Festival and its $1,000 purse so he can pay the deductible for his father's back surgery. Money is tight in Ellis' family, and the fourth-grader has more than the usual worries and responsibilities. He helps out a lot at home, but he still has time to explore the woods behind the family's blueberry farm in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains. That's where he finds the caterpillar he names Tink. Feeding her, dealing with her excrement (which, he learns, is called frass) and keeping her safe are some of the challenges he faces in this unusual pet story. Readers can't help but admire this boy who is trying so hard to be helpful. At school, his teacher describes him as "class-clown-but-with-brains" and encourages his interest in new words. There is humor in Ellis' efforts to keep Tink hidden on an outing to church and plenty of suspense right up to the race itself. And then there's the question: Can Ellis really talk to animals like Mrs. Puckett, the horse whisperer? A satisfying ending neatly wraps up this warm story, and Hatke's occasional line drawings will add appeal for middle-grade readers. (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 November #3

Being funny has earned Ellis the admiration of his classmates, but the fourth-grader's life is pretty serious at the moment. His injured father needs an operation that requires money his family doesn't have; his mother is working constantly; and Ellis is left to handle chores and help care for his father. Because Ellis's classmates count on him for comic relief, he doesn't share how hard his life is. A ,000 prize for winning the Woolly Worm (aka caterpillar) race at an annual festival in Ellis's North Carolina town offers him a chance to solve his family's financial problems. Ellis's gentle ways with animals--especially his new caterpillar, Tink--are a particularly touching part of this empathic story. There are a few twists and turns, but Hicks (the Gym Shorts series) pulls the narrative threads together in a pleasing if perhaps too neat way. Hatke (Zita the Spacegirl) contributes cheerful b&w spot illustrations that bolster the value and comfort Ellis finds in family, friendship, and faith. Ages 8-12. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. Illustrator's agent: Judith Hansen, Hansen Literary Agency. (Jan.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

School Library Journal Reviews 2013 February

Gr 4-6--Ellis loves animals; he even senses that he can communicate with them. His unique talent may be the solution to his family's financial woes. When Ellis bonds with a woolly worm he finds on his family's blueberry farm, he decides to enter it in the town's Wooly Worm Festival race and hopes to win the prize money. Ellis achieves his goal, but in an unexpected way that is both realistic and emotionally satisfying. Caring for Tink encourages the boy to reach out to his friends and to several adults in town, all of whom are well-defined supporting characters. Hicks writes with a gentle, sure hand, bringing to life the rural North Carolina setting. Hatke's expressive illustrations perfectly capture the book's emotional warmth. Fans of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh (S & S/Atheneum, 1991) will enjoy this "boy and his bug" tale of responsibility, family love, country life, and a wise young hero.--M. Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

[Page 104]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.