Newton Newman—“Newt” to friends and family—is a short, skinny, freckled ten-year-old boy who lives in the shadow of his small-town-famous older brother, Chris. Chris is varsity quarterback of the Ferocious Ferrets of Filmore High School, who, as Captain Nobody begins, face off against their cross-town rivals, the Chargers of Merrimac High, in the annual “big game.” In the opening chapter, Newt watches as his brother simultaneously scores the winning touchdown at the last second, gets a concussion, and goes into a coma as a result of the injury.
Newt may be invisible to most people—a running gag throughout the book is that people are shocked to discover that Chris has a younger brother. And yet, in many ways, he is the grease on his family’s skids, holding things together by cooking everyone breakfast, keeping track of his mom’s scattered real estate files, and in general knowing where everything goes and when. But with Chris in a coma in the hospital, Newt’s invisibility becomes so pronounced that even his parents begin to take him for granted.
But when Halloween rolls around, and Newt’s two friends (Cecil and JJ) encourage him to go trick or treating, he accidentally finds himself dressed in a ragtag of Chris’s clothes that his friends morph into a superhero costume. And thus, Newton Newman becomes Captain Nobody. He helps an old man with Alzheimer’s find his way home. He foils a bank robbery. He clears traffic so a plane can safely land on the highway. And all without intending to. The one superpower Newt doesn’t have is the ability to wake Chris up. Or does he? That’s the question readers wonder as Dean Pitchford writes his way toward the book’s heartwarming conclusion.
I read Captain Nobody along with my fourth-grade son’s lunchtime reading group, and the boys loved the story. It didn’t have the action or creativity of some of the other books we read, but the boys liked Newt and even identified with him a bit. For me, of the three books we read—the other two were Wings of Fire and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—I liked Captain Nobody best. (Well, I liked it alongside Lewis’ classic children’s story. I hated Wings of Fire, though the boys loved it.) I liked it because Newt is a free-range, competent, caring kid who loves his family and holds them together in a difficult time.
Does Chris ever wake up? Read the book to find out.
Puffin Books says the book is appropriate for kids 8–12, grades 3–7. Having read this with fourth-grade boys, I think age 10 and grade 4 is just about right.
Dean Pitchford, Captain Nobody (New York: Puffin Books, 2009).
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