Forgotten book with pranks and an aardvark
September 23, 2010 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Another half-remembered book from childhood: Friend of the narrator is brilliant, and coordinates or manipulates all the kids in their town into setting up awesome pranks. Pennies, soap, and aardvarks are involved.

Read it in maybe 1990, certainly before '93. It's not The Great Brain (it's set in modern times), though structurally it's similar: a set of separate-but-interlocking stories, each showing off one of the genius's schemes and its success or failure.

Specifically, he has kids maximize the change they get whenever they buy anything, and keep all the pennies; this leads to a town-wide penny shortage, until they start flooding the stores with buckets of pennies.

He creates a bubble-filled fountain by having dozens of kids empty tiny bottles of soap into it.

And he convinces the whole town that an eccentric, aardvark-owning man exists by opening a PO box in his name and then strategically spreading rumors about him; of course, no such person exists.

In the last story in the book, I think he tries to invent a flying machine? And it doesn't work? Not so sure about that.

I remember the thing as having an oddly elegiac tone.
posted by longtime_lurker to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could it have been one of Gordon Korman's books? I definitely remember the imaginary man incident from a YA novel of his, although I can't recall which one.
posted by Bardolph at 8:28 AM on September 23, 2010

Could it be Soup
posted by ghharr at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2010

Response by poster: Definitely not Soup; it wasn't old-timey, and the individual stories were longer; I think the four I mentioned are most if not all of the book. Soup did remind me, though, that the friend had some sort of unusual nickname for the narrator (Old Man? Old Bean, like Gatsby? Mr. Something?).

I can't find any of Korman's that look right on his website.
posted by longtime_lurker at 8:44 AM on September 23, 2010

Best answer: It's probably the Alvin Fernald Series, by Clifford B. Hicks.

Shoie, the narrator and Alvin often call each other "old bean" and "old man". I remember Alvin, Magnficent Brain, creating an artificial person by calling businesses over the telephone: setting up a P.O. Box, ordering a suit, etc; asking each person in turn for a recommendation for the next item on his list.
posted by flicken at 8:52 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: YES! Yes! That's it! It's specifically The Wacky World of Alvin Ferdinand. I vividly remember this illustration. Thank you!

46 minutes. What's par?
posted by longtime_lurker at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2010

Response by poster: Alvin Fernald, I mean. Not Ferdinand. That's how excited I am!
posted by longtime_lurker at 9:06 AM on September 23, 2010

Ah, additions to the school library coming up!
posted by tilde at 9:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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