• It’s the birth date of Mary Stolz (1920–2006), Belling the Tiger and Bill Cleaver (1920–1981), Where the Lilies Bloom.
  • On this day in 1900, New York City Mayor Robert Anderson Van Wyck breaks ground for underground a “rapid transit railroad” to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn. The subway is born. Read Subway by Christoph Niemann; Subway by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Karen Katz; The Subway Sparrow by Leyla Torres; and The Cricket in Times Square by George Sheldon, illustrated by Garth Williams.
  • And, it’s National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day. Read How Do You Raise a Raisin? by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Craig Brown.

March has been designated Humorists Are Artists Month. I totally agree with this sentiment. So often, when children are asked what kind of book they want to read, they respond, “a funny book.” And yet the craft of making this type of book often gets overlooked and is rarely awarded.

So today I’d like to acknowledge the comic genius of Graham Salisbury in Calvin Coconut #9: Extra Famous. As a writer, Graham demonstrated his ability to craft fascinating and serious historical fiction for older readers, in books such as Under the Blood-Red Sun. But several years ago when he began to write for children ages seven to ten, Salisbury used Hawaii—the state where he grew up—for the setting and employed a much lighter touch with the content.

This series of very successful books features a delightfully named character, Calvin Coconut. Fourth grader Calvin and his friends get recruited by Benny Obi—who wears strange, mirrored sunglasses—to audition for jobs as extras in a movie being made on their local beach. Fortunately, Calvin secures a spot as a zombie in Zombie Zumba, but finds he really has to practice his zombie walk. His teenage sister, who lands a larger part in the movie, tries to get him to channel his inner zombie. In the process of thinking about stardom, Calvin learns a lot about how to deal with his own issues.

The setting of these books is delightful; Calvin and his friends emerge as realistic fourth grade boys; the dialogue is hilarious; and the entire plot is strongly engaging to third and fourth grade readers. With lines like “High above, the sun was an egg yolk sizzling in a big old Hawaiian sky frying pan,” Salisbury brings his writing skill to this young age group.

Once parents, teachers, and children find one of these books, they rush back for the rest. Salisbury has captured the Oregon State Book Award for multiple books in the series—although he deserves to win many more awards. If you want action-packed, well-written, well-conceived, funny books, you can do no better than pick up Calvin Coconut #9: Extra Famous and the other books in the series.

And in this long winter of my discontent, I found it delightful to think about staggering around Hawaiian beaches—as a zombie or otherwise. Happy Humorists Are Artists Month to Graham Salisbury—he definitely qualifies as an artist.

Here’s a passage from Calvin Coconut #9: Extra Famous:

coconut     There were all kinds of people trying out— giants, shrimps, happy fat guys, girls skinny as shrimps, old dudes with ponytails, musclemen slippery with oil, moms with squirming babies, dads with grins and toothpicks, and guys like us joking around waiting for a chance to show how good we can all act.

   “Where’d they all come from?” Maya said.

    “The moon,” Julio said.

     It was like a giant beach party.



Originally posted March 24, 2014. Updated for .

Tags: Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Calvin Coconut #9: Extra Famous


  1. McCourt says:

    I shelve these books a lot when I volunteer at the school library, but I haven’t read them myself. I will have to pick one up. I love having funny books to recommend (and read!).

  2. T
    Mahalo, Anita! Calvin is as happy a dog chasing a mongoose. So am I. Though I do write books for older kids, these guys are my people. Fourth graders are ground zero. To have others recognize the quiet work we do keeps us striving to give our best to this amazing art form. What a blessing it is to be a writer for young readers. Thank you a thousand times for your kind words!

  3. Anita says:

    So nice to hear from you Graham — thanks for this fabulous series.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.