The Great Googlini. (Orca Echoes)
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The Great Googlini. (Orca Echoes)
I say there’s Mom, Dad, Uncle Mato, and Uncle Boris in my family. But there’s also Mrs. Zupan, who is also from Croatia. Her apartment is in the shoebox next to ours, in a whole other building, but it’s like she’s in the next room. It’s like she lives with us. Our kitchen window looks into her kitchen window, a meter away. I once stretched a broom handle across the distance, marked it with a piece of chalk, then used a ruler to get the measure.
When we moved into our sixth floor apartment, Mrs. Zupan was at her stove, stirring stew, a cloud of steam billowing out her window and into ours. Mom and Dad stopped in their tracks and forgot the heavy boxes in their arms.
“Janjetina!” Mom sighed.
Dad closed his eyes. “Janjetina,” he swooned. They were in a trance. Janjetina, I now know, is roast lamb with paprika, sour cream and parsley. It’s a favourite meal in Croatia.
Mrs. Zupan put down her wooden spoon, and we all shook hands across the gap between the buildings. An hour later, she handed a pot of janjetina through the window. Janjetina was our first meal in our new apartment.
A long time ago Ivan and I dropped a ball out the kitchen window and counted the seconds – one chimpanzee, two chim – until it hit the grass. We timed the fall with the clock on Ivan’s iPod too. For both measurements we got a second and a half. Ivan did the math. Objects fall at nine meters per second, so the drop was about thirteen meters.
But Ivan wanted an exact measurement. So we tied a bolt to the end of my mom’s roll of parcel string and lowered it to the ground – 13.3 meters. According to Google, that’s the length of the neck of an Apatosaurus. We now call the gap between the buildings the Apatosaurus Chasm.
Filip likes spending a lot of time on the computer, in fact, more than the two hours per day his mom allows. But he and his best friend Ivan are smart, with enquiring minds – as shown in the above excerpt. Filip’s parents both work at their coffee shop for which Mrs. Zupan prepares meals. Every Wednesday, Uncle Mato comes to visit and kicks the soccer ball around with Filip. But the Wednesday before Filip’s tenth birthday, his parents seem worried when Uncle Mato visits, and, later on, his mother and Mrs. Zupan are acting unusually secretive. Then, on the day of Filip’s birthday party, Ivan overhears the news – Uncle Mato has cancer. Filip tries to find out by googling whether or not Uncle Mato will be okay, but the computer can’t tell him that. Uncle Mato asks Filip to go out and kick the ball around without him while he’s having his cancer treatments and to get Ivan to go for a bike ride with him. So, Filip does as asked and also makes a belated birthday wish for Uncle Mato’s recovery. He also talks to another classmate, Frances, whose grandmother died of cancer. Frances is into swimming, and after Filip asks her if she’ll swim one lap for Uncle Mato, she starts swimming an extra lap for Uncle Mato every time she practices. Ultimately, Uncle Mato’s treatments are a success, and his cancer is defeated. In the meantime, Ivan and Filip have spent more time enjoying the outdoors, and Filip has made a new friend in Frances.
Cassidy’s characters are all credible. While Filip is smart and hooked on learning lots of interesting facts by googling, he’s also always using his imagination, as shown in the following examples: Ivan is “skinny, like stretched toffee. Me, I’m toffee before it got stretched – short and wide.” The sidewalk has “graham-cracker slabs.” Mrs. Zupan’s loaf of walnut bread
feels like a normal loaf of bread, but inside, I know, there’s a spiral, a
whorl of cinnamon, like a surfer’s tunnel wave.
There are wonders in the most normal looking things.
And horrors. Such as rogue cells.
Only occasionally, do some of Filip’s comments or observations not feel like those of a 10-year-old, no matter how bright. For instance, “In Vancouver…the grocery stores sell twenty types of salt – lilac salt, bacon salt, Himalayan pink salt, black truffle Italian sea salt, even chocolate salt.”
The Great Googlini, a thoughtful, touching story that moves at a good pace, could help children dealing with a seriously ill friend or family member, and it includes many interesting facts for everyone.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, Ontario, teacher and writer of children’s stories.