Ages: 7-12 years (approximately grades 1-5)
Henry Zipzer, known to his friends as Hank, is your average, everyday fourth-grader. Well, sort of. Hank has a self-dubbed reptile freak for a sister, two best friends who happen to live in the same apartment building as him in New York City’s West side, and he dreads his first fourth-grade assignment. In fact, Hank is dreading writing a five-paragraph essay so much that he hatches a plan to do the assignment without writing a word- he’s always found that getting thoughts from his brain to paper really difficult. Well, he’s always found getting any subject from his brain to paper really difficult. When his creative plan goes completely awry, Hank finds himself in detention where he meets a teacher who might have the insight to change Hank’s entire outlook on school, and even about himself.
The first of the Hank Zipzer series, Niagara Falls, Or Does It? splashes readers into Hank’s life with a laugh, a hoot, and a holler. Inspired by Henry Winkler’s own childhood days and his struggle with dyslexia, the Hank Zipzer series will appeal to any child ages 7 - 12 years (roughly grades 2 - 5) who struggle with school for any reason, or children who just want to laugh along with Hank and his friends on their adventures. While Hank’s hijinxes don’t always involve keeping parents and adults in-the-know, and while most of the adult characters fall a little flat (save for Hank’s grandfather, Papa Pete, and his new favorite and appropriately-named music teacher, Mr. Rock), the overall dynamic sends a sound message: creativity is great as long as you don’t break the rules.
I listened to the first half of this book on audiobook, narrated by Henry Winkler himself, and read the second half in a hardcover edition. Both versions capture the zany yet thoughtful nature of Winkler and Lin’s story, and I highly recommend the book on audio either by itself or as a reading supplement.