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Review: Arnie the Doughnut: Bowling Alley Bandit by Laurie Keller

Bowling Alley Bandit (The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut)
By Laurie Keller

Henry Holt

ISBN: 9780805090765
Grades 2-4
In Stores June 4, 2013

*Best New Book*

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

Oh, the hazards of bringing a picture book character to the chapter book format. For every success, there are a multitude of vacuous cash grabs (I won’t name names, but you definitely know ’em (struggling…to…not…name…names)). Here’s a note to others hoping to make the picture-book-to-chapter-book jump: get a load of Bowling Alley Bandit. Arnie the Doughnut makes the transition to 128 pages with seamless glee.

When we last left the chocolate frosted and candy-sprinkled Arnie, he was settling into a happy life as Mr. Bing’s doughnut-dog (this is indeed as absurd as it sounds). Mr. Bing is a bowling fanatic and Arnie has come to love the lanes, tagging along on Tuesday league nights. But on championship night, Mr. Bing suddenly can’t hit a pin. Something is up, and Arnie is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery before the championship is lost.

The plot is snappy, but isn’t always center stage. Arnie steps into and out of the story, frequently going on humorous jags that never feel like tiresome digression. Readers will wonder what’s coming next – a karaoke sing-along? A breakdown of proper bowling technique? A well-placed fart joke? Keller’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach ensures that there is never a dull moment. The frenetic pace and non-stop humor will suck in many a reluctant reader.

I should say here that Keller’s Arnie the Doughnut is quite possibly my favorite picture book of all time. It’s also one of my go-to read alouds. The only problem is that in order to be effective, I usually must skip the multitude of asides that fill the margins and stick to the main text. Little did I realize that the chapter book format would suit the Arnie style so well – here many of the asides are expanded and worked right into the story. The transition to this longer format doesn’t feel forced.

The black and white illustrations are key. They’re everywhere – many pages more artwork than text. This liberal use of illustration (including creative fonts and word balloons) immediately sets this book apart from most lower level chapter books. It’s more Bad Kitty than, say Stink, but it goes even more artwork crazy than Nick Bruel’s series. At times it comes across as a 128 page black and white picture book. I’m hoping for more adventures, but given the time this one must have taken, I won’t be tapping my foot and looking at my watch too quickly.

My wife astutely noted that this book would be a perfect for fans of Dan Gutman’s My Weird School series. I agree. Bowling Alley Bandit not only shares that series’s wacky sense of humor, but also its ability to appeal to both boys and girls.

It turns out Arnie has range. This wonderfully ridiculous (see also: worthy) foray into chapter book land will please fans and make a bunch of new ones. In terms of circulation, this book is going to hit the ground running.

Review copy from the publisher.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Fantastic review, Travis. I can’t wait to see Arnie in his first chapter book. We can all use more hilarity in our reading and days.

    • Travis Jonker says:

      Thanks, Margie! Such a fun book that I can see making a splash with kids. Hilarity in spades.

  2. Anne Grisenthwaite says:

    HOORAY!! I am also a HUGE fan of Arnie the Doughnut. Can’t wait until this comes out. :)

  3. Colby Sharp says:

    I have heard that more Arnie chapter books are in the works…