May 26, 2016
(++++) ODDITIES AND ENDS
Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus. By Edward Hemingway. Clarion. $16.99.
Alien in My Pocket 8: Space Invaders. By Nate Ball. Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan. Harper. $4.99.
Fart Squad #4: The Toilet Vortex. By Seamus Pilger. Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. Harper. $4.99.
Rating at least nine out of 10 on the cuteness scale, Edward Hemingway’s Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus is an ideal book for parents to read with children who may occasionally be just a touch temper-prone themselves. Hemingway has tracked, and tracked down, this unfortunately not-very-elusive creature in its natural habitat – its room and thereabouts – and duly made note of the dark rainclouds that hover above its head constantly, the perpetual frown, the folded arms warning intruders away, the “pouty underbite,” and more. The Grumpasaurus is covered in pointy scales and has a tail that it thumps in anger on the floor, and it possesses a furrowed brow and angry eyes; and it has – as an X-ray shows – a missing heart. The Grumpasaurus is “most often seen sulking around the room after a great tragedy or mishap,” explains Hemingway – for example, when a teddy bear’s arm gets torn. As the field guide progresses, a sweet-looking black kitten tries to approach the Grumpasaurus, only to be repeatedly scared away by the roaring and loud cries of “Grump! Grump!” In fact, it looks as if the whole neighborhood can hear those grumping sounds. What can be done about a Grumpasaurus? It turns out that the only way to approach it is “bearing gifts,” such as a sewn-back-together teddy bear – which leads to a hug, a wholly unanticipated smile, and lo and behold, “the Grumpasaurus disappears without a trace.” Hemingway has come up with a simply marvelous way to show kids how they behave when upset and how they can get over the grumps – the final picture shows the former Grumpasaurus, now just a little boy, sitting in a chair with the fixed teddy bear in one arm and the purring kitten in the other. Kids who are actually having a Grumpasaurus attack will have no interest in the book, but parents who get it to them in between tantrum times will find it to be the gentlest possible weapon against future explosive bouts of being upset – and one of the funniest.
The balance of funny and serious is a bit more even in Nate Ball’s Alien in My Pocket series, which finally comes to an end in its eighth entry, Space Invaders. These books have always used genuine science education as a backdrop for their silly primary story about a pocket-size alien on Earth and the two kids, Zack and Olivia, whom the alien, Amp, befriends while trying to find a way back to his home planet. Each book ends with a science project, and Space Invaders ends with two of them, the first involving creation of a “stomp rocket” and the second being a repeat of the bottle-rocket project presented in the very first book of the sequence. These (+++) books are thin on plot, but they have pleasant Macky Pamintuan illustrations and just enough amusement value to keep kids reading. Of course, the final book has to have a tearful farewell and the return of Amp to his home, and that is exactly what Ball provides. But before that wholly expected conclusion, there has to be the threat of interplanetary war when a fleet of Erdian ships (from Amp’s planet) shows up, and Amp has to use words such as “floofy” and “brimples” when talking to his leader, the Kaloofa, and a suitably royal gift of Ritz Crackers, Swee-Tarts and sunflower seeds must be arranged, and everything has to be orchestrated by the kids while the adults (mostly military types) stand around acting befuddled and looking (in Pamintuan’s illustrations) exceedingly foolish. Kids will not take anything in the Alien in My Pocket series seriously – except the real science, offered in bold type and expanded upon in the end-of-book projects – but those who have followed the adventures through the first seven books will bid Amp, Zack and Olivia a fond farewell at the conclusion of this eighth volume.
The Fart Squad books show no signs of running out of, err, gas at this stage. But Seamus Pilger’s deliberately gross stories of four kids powered by their school cafeteria’s bean burritos, saving the world through improbable and extremely stinky adventures, reach a new low in The Toilet Vortex, the fourth and least, umm, palatable book in the series so far. In this one, the school janitor, Stan, who is the “scent-sei” of the Fart Squad, actually gets sucked down a toilet to who-knows-where. Yes, the concept is on the disgusting side, although the toilet water is clean when Stan goes in – but not so the sewers into which he is, err, deposited, and into which the four kids follow him as they attempt a rescue. The many references to what is floating in those sewers push the bounds of good taste, or any taste, too far, even for this series; and while Stephen Gilpin does not offer any close-up views of what the Fart Squad is touching and handling and walking through, Pilger makes things clear as, hmm, mud. Furthermore, even within the inherent grossness/silliness of this (+++) series, The Toilet Vortex makes little sense. The villains here are huge toilet-paper-wrapped soldiers – somehow the kids immediately know they are soldiers when they see them, even though they have no uniforms or anything else to identify them. The reason for the toilet paper is never explained, and when the kids eventually learn just who, or what, the soldiers and their leader are, the TP wrapping makes even less sense. There is lots of slipping and sliding in stinky water and on various solid objects here, and there is enough use of the Fart Squad’s unique brand of weaponry to amuse kids who really like potty humor. But there is much less actual fun and funniness in The Toilet Vortex than elsewhere in this series, and much less plot consistency, too – making this a (++) book that is not quite up to the not-very-high level of the series’ earlier entries. Maybe things will be better next time, because Pilger and Gilpin certainly have other ideas to, uhhh, churn out in this sequence before it comes to its, well, end.