'Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer' proves that John Grisham can write for kids
Kids' books: A look at "Theodore Boone," the first children's novel by best-selling author John Grisham. Plus, a link to the book's website.
Scripps Howard News Service
As the only child of two attorneys, 13-year-old Theodore Boone knows more about the law than most adults.
Theodore dreams of going into the law himself, working as a trial lawyer and eventually becoming a judge. He already knows all the attorneys and judges in his small city of Strattenburg, and has even named his dog Judge. Theodore is so passionate about the law that he works as an amateur attorney, giving basic legal advice to friends.
But Theodore's hobby turns potentially deadly when he becomes involved with a key witness in a major murder trial. In "Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer" (Dutton, $16.99, ages 8-12), best-selling author John Grisham details how Theodore sorts out a legal tangle that involves an illegal immigrant, a cold-blooded killer and a creepy private investigator who seems to be stalking Theodore.
"Theodore Boone" is the first children's novel by Grisham, whose 21 adult novels have 250 million copies in print and have been translated into 38 languages. Given Grisham's popularity, Dutton set a 1 million-copy first printing for "Theodore Boone," which is the first in a projected series about the "kid lawyer."
Just because an author is popular with adults, however, doesn't guarantee he or she can write for children. But, in "Theodore Boone," Grisham successfully translates his talent for writing fast-paced, emotionally gripping legal thrillers into a book that will have young readers whipping through the pages to see what happens next.
Grisham's depiction of Theodore Boone is the one mildly shaky element in the book. Theodore is both likable and interesting, and, while his passion for the law is unusual in someone so young, it certainly seems natural, given that both of his parents are attorneys.
But Theodore also is, at times, a bit too good to be true, especially in how he meekly adapts to his parents' rather heavy-handed efforts to control his schedule. And Grisham is just patently out of touch with middle-schoolers when he writes that Theo and his male friends weren't interested in girls, "and the girls felt the same way."
Yet young readers are likely to readily forgive such missteps because they'll be so engrossed in the story Grisham has written, which focuses on a high-profile murder trial that's the talk of Strattenburg. A well-known businessman named Peter Duffy is accused of killing his wife for her life-insurance money, and while many people think he's guilty, there's no real proof.
Then Theodore meets someone who may be able to provide that proof. But Bobby Escobar is an illegal immigrant and he's terrified that if he comes forward, he'll be deported. It's up to Theodore — and, eventually, his parents — to figure out how to see that justice is done without jeopardizing Escobar's desire to remain in the United States.
Most young readers won't have much prior knowledge of the law. Fortunately, that really doesn't matter as Grisham has a gift for clearly explaining legal procedures, whether it's the Duffy murder trial or the intricacies of freeing a dog from the pound via the city's animal court.
While Grisham's books for adults include a fair amount of violence, he steered clear of that in "Theodore Boone," choosing instead to build suspense in different ways. For example, the shady investigator working for Duffy seems to follow Theodore around, making readers wonder if Theodore is in danger.
Grisham said in a recent interview with the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer that he wrote "Theodore Boone" "because I really just wanted to see if I could do it. And I hope it will be somewhat instructional for the kids."
To see how kids liked his book, Grisham worked with the fifth-graders in his daughter Shea Grisham's class at the A.B. Combs Leadership Elementary School in Raleigh. Early in the process of writing "Theodore Boone," Grisham read the first two chapters to the class and asked for feedback.
Dutton, a division of the Penguin Young Readers group, is going all out to promote "Theodore Boone." In addition to movie trailers and TV ads, the publisher has put together a website, www.theodoreboone.com, which offers further information about the characters, plus instructional materials for teachers and librarians.
Grisham's already working on a "Theodore Boone" sequel, which is due out next year. Meanwhile, he'll publish another adult novel, "The Confession," this October.
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com