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Leon and the Spitting Image
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What's the story?
Leon has difficulties with fine-motor coordination, which becomes a problem when his strange and maniacal fourth-grade teacher, Miss Hagmeyer, announces that each student will have to complete a series of increasingly difficult sewing assignments before going on to fifth grade. He also has problems with the class bully, Lumpkin, and an ice machine that keeps him up all night.
For his final project, Leon makes a doll that is the spitting image of Miss Hagmeyer. But when Lumpkin pours some of the coach's chewing tobacco spit on it, Leon discovers that he can control Miss Hagmeyer's actions with the doll. Suddenly life is full of interesting possibilities.
Is it any good?
This lightweight fantasy, with some mildly disgusting imagery, will keep middle-graders amused without horrifying their parents too much. The wish-fulfillment idea of controlling a mean teacher has real appeal, and the not-very-surprising ending, in which it turns out that the magic can't hurt anyone and that the teacher is not as mean as she seems, mitigates any edge the story may have seemed to have.
First-time children's author Allen Kurzweil is not taking any chances here, and there's a certain by-the-numbers quality to the care he invests in appealing to childish humor without bothering adults. The result is harmless and modestly entertaining, which seems to be what he was going for.