Bibliography: Hiaasen, Carl. 2002. Hoot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, Inc. ISBN 0375829164
Plot Summary: Roy Eberhardt has moved from Montana to Florida where he is the 'new kid' and immediately earns the nickname "Cowgirl" from one of the worst bullies in the school. While riding the bus to school and avoiding the Bully, Roy notices a strangely ragged-looking boy without shoes running with the agility of a deer. His curiosity awakened, Roy starts a search to find out who this boy is. In doing so, he begins an uneasy friendship with a girl who turns out to be the boy's sister and discovers the boy is staging a one-man assault against a national pancake house which plans to illegally build a new restaurant right over the homes of endangered burrowing owls. Together, the three work to prevent the business from becoming a reality and save the owls.
Critical Analysis: Hoot is written with a protagonist many students can relate to. Roy is a new kid and is picked on by the biggest bully in school. Roy is not a large boy and even some girls are bigger than him, a common sight in junior high schools.
The novel's language fits in to today's lingo without using too much contemporary slang which will allow Hoot to remain a contemporary realistic fiction novel for many more years. Hiaasen uses some mild profanity from the bully when he says, "Yeah, well, they'll be laughin' even louder when I kick your skinny ass to kingdom come, Cowgirl" or "You must be crazy. After all the crap that's happened to me, you're so dead, Eberhardt." While some might find the language too severe for the intended audience, it is slight enough to be exchanged for more acceptable vocabulary if the book is used in a read aloud.
The setting of Florida with its description of the heat and humidity rings true along with the theme of good vs. evil, which manifests itself in several vignettes in the novel: Roy vs. the Bully, Mullet Fingers vs. the Corporate Business World, and Endangered Owls vs. Man.
Students who love animals will be able to relate to the feelings of Mullet Fingers and Roy when they want to save the burrowing owls.
From School Library Journal Grade 6-9-Packed with quirky characters and improbable plot twists, Hiaasen's first novel for young readers is entertaining but ultimately not very memorable. Fans of the author's adult novels will find trademark elements-including environmental destruction, corrupt politicians, humorous situations, and a Florida setting-all viewed through the eyes of a middle-school student. Roy Eberhardt has just moved with his family to Coconut Cove. He immediately becomes the target of a particularly dense bully who tries to strangle him on the school bus. Roy seems more concerned, however, with discovering the identity of a running, barefoot boy he spots through the window of the bus. Meanwhile, plans to build a pancake house on a vacant lot are derailed when someone vandalizes the construction site. The two story lines come together when Roy discovers that the runaway boy is disrupting the construction to save a group of burrowing owls. Roy must help his new friend, nicknamed Mullet Fingers, as well as fend off the bully and adapt to life in Florida. The story is silly at times but rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and there are several highly unlikely scenes. Also, it wraps up a little too neatly-Roy's classmates join him to protest the construction project, his father finds the missing environmental impact report, and the owls are saved. While Roy is a sympathetic protagonist, few of the other characters are well developed. Students looking for humorous, offbeat characters and situations will probably prefer Louis Sachar's Holes (Farrar, 1998) or books by Daniel Pinkwater.
From Booklist: “It seems unlikely that the master of noir-tinged, surrealistic black humor would write a novel for young readers. And yet, there has always been something delightfully juvenile about Hiaasen’s imagination; beneath the bent cynicism lurks a distinctly 12-year-old cackle. In this thoroughly engaging tale of how middle schooler Roy Eberhardt, new kid in Coconut Cove, learns to love South Florida, Hiaasen lets his inner kid run rampant, both the subversive side that loves to see grown-ups make fools of themselves and the righteously indignant side, appalled at the mess being made of our planet. The story is full of offbeat humor, buffoonish yet charming supporting characters, and genuinely touching scenes of children enjoying the wildness of nature. He deserves a warm welcome into children’s publishing.”
Have students research endangered animals in their state.
Research qualifiers for animals to be on endangered or extinct list.
Have students rainstorm other solutions Mullet Fingers could have used against the pancake restaurant.
Practice letter writing by writing imaginary Letters to the Editor protesting the building of the restaurant on the owls homes.