November 08, 2012

(+++) SERIES OF, OR WITH, PICTURES


Lunch Lady No. 8: Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $6.99.

Squish No. 4: Captain Disaster. By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $6.99.

Calvin Coconut #8: Rocket Ride. By Graham Salisbury. Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. Wendy Lamb Books. $12.99.

Melonhead 4: Melonhead and the Vegalicious Disaster. By Katy Kelly. Illustrated by Gillian Johnson. Delacorte Press. $14.99.

      How can you not love a graphic-novel series that includes such implements as a fancy-ketchup-packet laser, chicken nugget bomb, mustard grappling hook, and serving-spoon crowbar? They are all there in Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady sequence, along with dialogue like this: “Oh my goulash!” “Justice has a way of being served.” “Holy jalapeňos!” “Let’s dinner-roll.”  The plots of the Lunch Lady books may be thin to the point of vanishing, and the villains may be given such lines as, “I will not have my dreams squashed by some meddling schoolchildren,” but how is it possible not to enjoy an attack of supermodels – against whom Lunch Lady and Betty fight back with loaves of French bread?  The plot of Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril has to do with a photographer scamming schoolkids to get the money she needs to be a fashion-world star, doctoring permission slips with a mysterious substance so the kids will have acne on school picture day and will need to pay extra for airbrushing, and getting one kid to steal student-council funds as well, and – well, it’s all pretty incoherent. But Lunch Lady fans won’t care – this entry is no more ridiculous than previous ones – and non-fans can enter the series at any point and figure out what is going on pretty quickly. In this book as in the previous seven, Krosoczka delivers just what his readers expect.

      Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm do likewise in the Squish series, intended as a sort of “boy” version of their Babymouse sequence for girls. Squish the amoeba is not as interesting a character as Babymouse, though, lacking the mouse’s prickly personality and constant talking back to the narrator; the Squish books are much more straightforward and less inventive. In Captain Disaster, Squish is captain of a soccer team called the Water Fleas, and of course they are pretty awful – and unhappy to be repeatedly told by their coach that winning isn’t everything, everyone should participate and have fun, and all that. Of course the Water Fleas lose again and again, to teams with names such as Sharks, Razor Fish and Moray Eels, until eventually Squish figures out a way to win games by focusing on the team’s strong players and not letting the weaker ones participate equally – which results in hurt feelings despite won games. And everyone learns that being equals on a team is what really matters. Bleh. The book is rather too “message-y,” and the chances for humor (amoebas, which have no feet, playing soccer) are barely acknowledged. The simple science experiment at the end – there is one in every Squish book – is a nice feature, but the book itself is not at the level of Babymouse. Or, for that matter, Lunch Lady.

      The ongoing series about Calvin Coconut and Melonhead are traditional novels, not graphic novels, but both are distinguished by the importance of their illustrations: the ambiance of the books is communicated as much by artists Jacqueline Rogers and Gillian Johnson as by authors Graham Salisbury and Katy Kelly.  In Rocket Ride, Calvin’s father, a famous pop singer, is coming to town and will see Calvin for the first time in four years. Although Calvin’s parents are divorced, Calvin’s dad gives his mom 10 tickets to the concert, so Calvin gets to worry both about seeing his father again and about who gets the tickets. The Hawaiian atmosphere is, as always, an important part of the book, with ironwood trees and references to a hamajang (totally mixed up) life.  But the pictures are equally significant: classmate Shayla’s drawings of a toad wearing a cowboy hat and another strumming a guitar; Willy, Julio and Rubin gaping at Calvin in equal astonishment; Calvin’s father with beefy bodyguards on each side; the cat Zippy lying in the middle of the road; class centipede Manly giving a very un-centipede-like wink; and many more. The plot is predictable, the positive outcome inevitable, but the book is fun to read – and enjoyable to look at.  And so is Melonhead and the Vegalicious Disaster, in which the fifth-grader is not only subjected to a teacher nicknamed Bad Ms. Mad but is also being forced to eat more vegetables at home because his mom is including them in the meals she cooks. Both of these issues are pretty thin ones on which to hang a plot, but the Melonhead books are more about personalities – Adam “Melonhead” Melon himself, friends Sam, Jonique, and Lucy Rose, new friend Pip, and various adults – than about events of much significance. The illustrations reflect this: most of them show characters, not plot points, and are scattered around the pages. The chapter titles are fun (“Everybody Has a Dead Person Except Me,” “Disappearing Pants Would Be less Embarrassing Than This Dinner”) and the plot resolutions are offbeat enough to make readers chuckle. On the vegetable front, Melonhead starts eating plenty of them after he discovers he likes beets, because “when I eat beets my pee turns red.” And on the Ms. Mad side of things, Melonhead – thanks to a suggestion from Lucy Rose – comes up with an ideal subject for his Most Admired Person in History report: Joseph Pujol, a famed 19th-century entertainer known as Le Pétomane, who performed at the Moulin Rouge by passing gas in a variety of ways. It should be obvious from all this the Melonhead books are aimed more at boys than girls; but kids of either gender who like this sort of slightly gross and slightly grotesque humor will not be disappointed by Melonhead’s latest adventure.

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