By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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Boy: “He's so odd.”
Buddy: “He's so weird.”
Girl: “He's so little.”
His name is Toulouse, and he's from Quebec, but that's not what the other children find strange.
This newcomer wears a hat, gloves and glasses. His head turns almost all the way around. And his mouth, well, it's birdlike.
So everybody's fixated on how different Toulouse looks.
Everyone except young Woodrow, that is. He hangs out with Toulouse on the playground, marveling at his ability to move rapidly from place to place. Then they go fishing together, after Woodrow visits Toulouse's family treehouse.
And so the story of a friendship unfolds, a friendship the other kids miss out on. This is Odd, Weird & Little, Port Townsend author Patrick Jennings' latest novel adventure published by Egmont USA. And since the hero is French Canadian, Jennings is inviting readers to a cookies-and-milk party at Sweet Laurette's, the French-style cafe at 1029 Lawrence St., this Sunday afternoon.
Jennings will read from Odd, Weird & Little at 4:30 p.m., and while the event is free, copies of Odd and Jennings' other recent books — Guinea Dog 2, My Homework Ate My Homework, Dognap — will be for sale.
Jennings has enjoyed good notices about this latest work, even if some critics didn't quite align with what it's about.
“At last: a humorous, useful and pedantry-free book about bullying,” a Kirkus Reviews critic wrote recently of Odd, Weird & Little.
“When that review came out, I said, 'Really?' Bullying is always out there, in stories and in my life,” Jennings said.
He didn't sit down to write a novel about bullies. To him, Odd, Weird & Little is about two friends, kindred souls who see past the surface. Jennings, author of 21 kids' books now, strives to avoid the preachy-teachy.
But “if I was preaching or teaching anything, it's about digging a little bit deeper with people,” he said.
Kids or not, “we judge people on what they look like, not what they are, or who.”
Odd, Weird & Little isn't heavy, though. It's speckled with wordplay and absurd situations.
“I like stories that have little puzzles in them that you sort of unlock,” Jennings said. So he doesn't come right out and say what Toulouse is.
“I pushed the absurd further than I usually do,” Jennings said, “and then hid it.”
His next book, to come out in August, is Guinea Dog 3, part of Jennings' saga about a pet guinea pig who behaves like a dog, much to the delight and then consternation of his owner, Rufus. Absurd, yes. But Jennings has an in-house editor, his 14-year-old daughter Odette,who keeps him from getting too far out there.
“The last thing I do before I send [a book] in, I read it aloud to her,” he said. “She has a good ear.”
More about Jennings and his books can be found at www.PatrickJennings.com.