In this middle-grade book, a seventh-grader faces his fears in an attempt to prove that he’s actually seen his town’s legendary monster despite widespread skepticism from the townsfolk.
In 2015’s O.K. Is Great, author/illustrator and middle school teacher Tiefenthaler introduced readers to Otis “O.K.” Kalshwonkee, a 12-year-old whose desire to be more than average led to comical, challenging ups and downs in the odd farm town of Boykinville. O.K. makes a welcome return here, again narrating and illustrating his quirky fantasies, hopes, and daily observations of people and events. (Tiefenthaler’s convincingly childlike pencil drawings are a hoot.) O.K., with his best pal, Leo, confronts more middle school tribulations, a different mean-girl nemesis, and spiky family dynamics (including a macho big brother, wunderkind little sister, and seemingly oblivious parents). Meanwhile, they also set out to prove that the Beast of Boykinville Road, a werewolf said to lurk in the nearby woods, is real. The trouble is that O.K. is afraid of seemingly everything, including the dark, heights, spiders, and “my mom when she’s looking at my report card.” His efforts to find courage, which involve a high dive, a tarantula, bear repellent, and a baseball bat, all go awry. How can he face the Beast if he’s frozen with fear? A practical joke occurs in the story’s climactic scene, but Tiefenthaler mitigates its potential cruelty with the hilarity of O.K.’s realization that being afraid doesn’t preclude taking action. The author wears his educator hat throughout this tale—O.K.’s formidable yet kind literature teacher is the book’s primary authority figure, and well-read Leo explains the difference between “famous” and “infamous,” defines such words as “oxymoron” and “plight,” and shares various historic and scientific facts. But Tiefenthaler never sacrifices story and fun for the sake of educational content, just as he knows just how far to go with his portrayals of O.K.’s inner fears and outer torments without copping out. Readers will find the unexpectedly juicy plot turn at the end to be highly satisfying.
Tiefenthaler again proves his ability to craft a humorous, suspenseful story with depth and an authentic voice.