Thursday, February 26, 2015
Continuing on my nostalgia tour, let me introduce you to Bingo Brown. Award-winning author Betsy Byars, who has penned more than 60 children's books since 1962, including The Summer of the Swans, brought Bingo into my life in the early 90's.
She tells his story in a 4-part series: The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown, Bingo Brown and the Language of Love, Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover, and Bingo Brown's Guide to Romance. All are available in Kindle editions as well as through third party sellers through Amazon. Each book can stand alone, but I recommend reading them all in order. They're quick and entertaining, perfect for read aloud time with your own children or a classroom of 3rd-6th graders.
Let's talk about first things first - how does a kid get a name like Bingo? Well, his real name is Harrison, but only his grandmother is allowed to call him that. :) His parents began calling him Bingo because that is what the doctor said when he entered the world. Bingo is sure that the doctor says that every time he delivers a baby and feels like his moniker, and perhaps his very self, is unremarkable.
Byars deftly addresses his nickname in the third book, as the family gathers at the hospital for the birth of his new sibling. Bingo has a brief conversation with a nurse who says she was also in the room when he was born. He asks her if the doctor says, "Bingo!" each time he delivers a child. She says she can't remember him saying it any other time and I could almost hear Bingo's sigh of relief as he lets go of the feeling that he is just another face in the crowd, or delivery room, as the case may be. The whole exchange is so brief, such a seemingly insignificant incident in the series, but speaks volumes of the angst that tweens carry around with them as they try to find their place in the world.
While the titles correctly suggest that sixth grader Bingo is struggling to understand the opposite sex, each book also contains subplots dedicated to other challenges pre-teens often face: a new sibling, bullies, teachers who betray their students' trust, friends moving away, and believing yourself to be in love with more than one person at the same time.
Byars is an expert at creating sympathetic characters and believable dialogue. While some adults may not appreciate her lighter touch regarding more serious issues, such as the motorcycle accident, I found her treatment to be perfect for her target audience.
Today's readers may have a tough time understanding Bingo's world with it's land-lines, long-distance charges, and snail mail, but they will easily identify with his panic over participating in "mixed-sex conversations" on the phone, coping with wild crushes, idolizing a cool, young teacher, and figuring out familial relationships.