April 23, 2015
(++++) CHARACTER COMEDIES
Shivers! The Pirate Who’s Afraid of EVERYTHING. By Annabeth Bondor-Stone and Connor White. Illustrated by Anthony Holden. Harper. $12.99.
Willy Maykit in Space. By Greg Trine. Illustrations by James Burks. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $13.99.
Amelia Bedelia 6: Amelia Bedelia Cleans Up. By Herman Parish. Pictures by Lynne Avril. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $4.99.
Sometimes the fun of a book is less in the plot than in the strange, amusing, silly and/or offbeat characters. It is the peculiarity of Shivers the boy pirate (age 11) and his faithful companion Margo (age 10) that makes Shivers! The Pirate Who’s Afraid of EVERYTHING so enjoyable – not the thin and largely predictable story, which it is easy to believe is based on an idea from a nine-year-old boy (the authors actually say that, crediting a boy name Harrison Blanz for the book’s concept). Shivers is a landlubber of a pirate, living in a permanently beached pirate ship while his brave pirate parents and bold pirate brother sail the seas having piratical adventures. But parents and brother alike have been captured, and only Shivers can save them. So he gets together with Margo, daughter of Police Chief Clomps’n’Stomps, and the two set off to rescue Shivers’ family – which they do. That’s the whole plot, but it matters little, since the real attraction here is finding out just how terrified Shivers is of absolutely everything: pumpkins, because of the size of their seeds; clouds, because they look like cute fluffy pillows but can generate killing electricity; pepperoni pizza, which Shivers calls “deadly spotted cheese bread”; and more. Lots more. But Shivers is not afraid of his best friend, Albee the fish (who in one scene of the story has a crucial part to play). More to the point, he realizes he is not afraid of Margo, even when she makes scary faces at him. So maybe he can rescue his family after all! Well, of course he can, although there is a small matter of his fear of snails that gets in the way – that is, until it becomes a solution rather than a problem. Annabeth Bondor-Stone and Connor White have a great time piling absurdity on absurdity here, and the illustrations by Anthony Holden are a hoot – such as the one of Shivers doing song-and-dance time, with a grand piano in the background and a huge grin on his face, while wearing bunny slippers (one of which also eventually has an important part to play). Throw in a giant squid, some sharks with surprisingly good taste, a pirate opponent called Captain Pokes-You-in-the-Eye, and a very French master criminal, and Shivers! The Pirate Who’s Afraid of EVERYTHING turns out to be too funny to be one of a kind – readers who enjoy Shivers and Margo will surely want to see more of them.
Readers who prefer a cosmic sort of silliness may gravitate (ha, ha) to Willy Maykit in Space, in which Greg Trine comes up with passages like this: “Willy and his companions had no idea that there was a monster out there who wanted revenge. They knew there were monsters out there, sure. And they knew that they roamed around at night, looking for things to eat. But they had no idea that it was personal.” It seems that Willy has gotten himself stranded on Planet Ed during a fourth-grade field trip: the return-to-Earth ship leaves without him. It also leaves without his classmate, Cindy, who realized he was missing and, instead of telling anyone, decided to go looking for him – ending up stranded herself (logic and rationality matter not at all in character-driven books like this one). The two soon encounter and befriend an alien boy named Norp, and the three of them set off on outer-space adventures that also involve Max, an android pilot (not a very good one) with a strong preference for knock-knock jokes. Also involved is Phelps, “a bird, or whatever you call things that fly on Planet Ed.” While all this is going on, Willy’s dad, Mr. Maykit, is being held captive in the Amazon jungle on Earth by a tribe of foothunters, “and now they were staring at his feet even more than usual.” So there are several escapes, or escapes-in-progress, here. One specific monster on Planet Ed is a serious problem, though: “He’d been pooped on by a seagull, shunned by his own kind, and he’d missed the annual Monster Ball. This was one angry beast.” To see just how angry, readers need only look at James Burks’ pictures, which make this (and other things) abundantly clear. Eventually, everyone escapes from everything, waffles are served all around, and here too, readers may wonder whether there will be further adventures to come.
No such wondering is needed for the child version of Amelia Bedelia, spun off by Herman Parish from the adult version created by his aunt, Peggy Parish. Amelia Bedelia Cleans Up is already the sixth chapter book in Herman Parish’s ongoing series, and while none of the books is up to the quality of the ones by Peggy Parish, each – including this one – offers an enjoyable focus on the central character. The story here, which is as thin as the plots of others in this series (and as thin as the plots of many other character-centered books for young readers), has to do with a search for a clubhouse, maybe even a treehouse. Amelia Bedelia and her friends find what seems like an ideal place: an empty lot with a big tree in the middle. So they get together and start cleaning the lot up. And they do a good job – only to learn that the lot, although vacant, is not simply available to anyone who wants to use it. It is for sale, and of course they cannot afford to buy it. What they can do, it turns out, is prevent possible buyers from being interested in making the purchase – because the girls make comments that make buyers feel the lot is not right for them. This upsets Victor Lee, the man who is trying to sell the lot. He is not the owner, though – that is elderly Mrs. West, whom the girls meet and befriend. They ask her not to sell, but she really needs the money to fix up her house. However, Amelia Bedelia figures out a way for Mrs. West to get money without selling the lot, and Mrs. West decides to donate the land to be made into a park, and everything ends happily – not surprisingly at all. The fun here is supposed to come mainly from Amelia Bedelia’s tendency to take figurative language literally (“ants in my pants,” “hold on to your hat,” and so forth). But the use of such language in these (+++) chapter books seems overdone and forced, not natural as in the Peggy Parish originals. Young readers of Herman Parish’s books may not mind, though, and certainly Lynne Avril’s amiable illustrations help make these books into enjoyable, quick reads whose central character is pleasantly quirky.