Off the wall is what Frank L. Cole delivers in his debut middle grade novel The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters (2009, Bonneville Books). Hashbrown narrates his tale in a tone that lands somewhere between Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story and Sean Astin's Mikey in The Goonies. I also felt the influence of The Sandlot in there somewhere, with a sense of marble-clacking nostalgia that rings true despite the wacky story line.
The cast of characters, led by 5th grader Hashbrown Winters (who earned his moniker by winning a hashbrown-eating contest), are as quirky, odd, and likable, as their school. The adventures begin when Winters accidentally squishes the pet cockroach of Hambone, the school bully. Not just any cockroach, mind you, one named Phil.
While Phil miraculously survives, Hashbrown now has a price on his head. Will his prized marble Ball Basher be enough to get him out of this "raspberry jam" or will something greater save the day?
I have no doubt that this book will appeal to third - sixth grade readers, and boys in particular (especially considering how Snow Cone got his name... ewwwww). The story is filled with zingers that will make kids and their parents alike laugh out loud, and just when you think it's all just too much, more hilarity ensues.
I hear a second adventure is in the works, so get on the Hashbrown bandwagon early because this one has cult classic all over it. A solid 4 bookmarks on the Coolness meter. And remember, if you ever visit Pordunce Elementary, stay out of the sandbox.