Don Robertson •
The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread •
Take a ride on the nostalgia railroad with this evocative, richly specific paean to growing up in the Midwest.
There’s nothing exceptional about Morris Bird III. True, he’s the best dropkicker in grade 4A. He wears a Roosevelt button, but so does half the country in 1944. He adores his grandma, who comes to stay after the babysitter, caught with her sailor boyfriend in the house, is denounced as An Oar. He’s not above threatening his whiny little sister (“I’ll tell the policemen about how you cheated”). He throws away a stinky salami sandwich and lets someone else take the blame. He idolizes Ulysses S. Grant.
Improbably, he winds up befriending the outcast Stanley Chaloupka, partly because he’s curious about what makes Stanley smile to himself all the time, and partly because Stanley has a Lionel model train layout to die for. Morris assumes the post of honorary engineer on the Atlantic & Pacific run.
And after Stanley moves to the other side of Cleveland, Morris conceives the daring idea of walking all the way across town to see him (with a picture of Veronica Lake tucked inside his map for moral support). En route he gets caught up in one of the worst industrial disasters in American history—and becomes an accidental hero.
What makes Morris so appealing is that he has no idea he’s doing anything extraordinary. He was just going to see old Stanley Chaloupka. And now he’s going to Get It because he skipped school—even if it was only a field trip to the art museum, the most boring place ever
Two subsequent books, The Sum and Total of Now and The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened, follow Morris Bird III as he heads into the perils of adolescence. His is an acquaintance worth cultivating.