February 09, 2017
(++++) ALMOST-HUMAN ANTICS
Third Grade Mermaid. By Peter Raymundo. Scholastic. $12.99.
Bunny vs. Monkey, Book Two. By Jamie Smart. David Fickling Books. $7.99.
The troubles and travails of everyday life for those in the six-to-10 age group seem somehow easier to handle when kids realize that other creatures have the same kinds of problems, and they find ways to solve them. Mermaids, for example, go to school, have to master spelling tests, want to be “in with the in crowd,” have annoying mer-brothers and well-meaning but overly pushy mermaid moms, and have to cope with bullies and with the responsibility of pets. It just so happens that when mermaids have all this to deal with, the bullies are sharks and the possible pet is a ton-and-a-half mutated shrimp to which the annoying mer-brother is allergic. But hey, not everything can be the same above the sea and under it. Just most things. Peter Raymundo, whose Third Grade Mermaid is the start of a series, makes mermaid Cora fully human in her concerns and worries but sufficiently, well, fishy in her appearance and surroundings so that kids will enjoy what she goes through even though they would not like to go through the same things themselves. Although not quite a graphic novel, Third Grade Mermaid tells its story in pictures as much as in words: it is supposed to be Cora’s diary, which she has to write and draw in because, as her mer-mother explains, “It’s enchanted. And because you willingly put pen to paper, from now on you’ll be compelled to write in it.” This eventually turns out to be a white lie, or the mermaid equivalent of one; young readers will likely realize this quickly but won’t care, since without Cora (who is a bit lazy when it comes to school work, which includes writing) feeling she has to chronicle her adventures, there would be no book. Cora’s problem is that the only thing she really wants to do is perform with the junior version of the Singing Sirens – she is absolutely crazy about the Singing Sirens themselves, because they look so gorgeous all the time and “when you have scales with that much shine, who needs to spell?” Unfortunately, Cora’s poor spelling test results in her being bounced from the team unless she can take the test again and do much, much better – get an A, in fact. That means studying really hard, which is not an appealing prospect; and to make matters worse, if Cora does not bring her grade up and get back on the team, her place will be taken by Vivian Shimmermore, who is the actual younger sister of the grown-up Singing Sirens. Cora has a bad case of jealousy where Vivian is concerned. She also has difficulty focusing and concentrating. And then there is the small matter of the gigantic shrimp. He started as a little shrimp, but after Cora rescued him from the “dumping zone” where “humans dump their toxic barrels of sludge,” he got sludged and started to grow and grow and grow and become anything but shrimpy. He is, however, extremely salty, so Cora names him Salty and figures out how to get rid of him when he starts hanging around all the time. But then she feels bad about that, even though Salty has caused her mer-brother’s face to swell up like crazy, which Cora doesn’t feel too bad about. Eventually, Cora gets Salty back, does her studying, gets a great spelling grade, and realizes that she doesn’t really care about the Singing Sirens anymore and is just fine letting Vivian be on the team instead. There is also a whole sequence involving Vivian’s birthday party and a volcano, which fits the story just about as well as everything else does. In fact, Raymundo throws a lot into this first book about Cora, giving himself plenty of ways to develop stories about her in the future and giving readers lots of possibilities to consider. The whole thing is, as Cora would say (and does), “shellfishalicious,” which translates to “very silly in ways that are different from readers’ everyday lives but close enough to be immediately recognizable.”
The happenings in Bunny vs. Monkey are less likely to be ones with which readers are personally familiar, since they involve various monsters and absurd mechanical and electronic creations and a genius skunk who invents a lot of the odd stuff and a megalomaniacal monkey who wants to take over the forest and a perfectly reasonable if not-quite-heroic bunny who would prefer that all the animals be left alone to get on with their sylvan lives. The second Bunny vs. Monkey book, like the first one, is essentially a set of silly good-guy-vs.-bad-guy tales. It is not a single extended graphic-novel-style story but something closer to traditional comics: Jamie Smart creates a series of two-pagers, each of them not much longer than a newspaper comic strip. Also, although there is some variation in panel size, most of the panels are square or rectangular instead of being created in the multiple sizes and shapes of cutting-edge graphic novels. The result is a kind of comfortable familiarity surrounding the hijinks of Bunny, Monkey, Skunky, Le Fox, destructive and occasionally dancing robot Metal Steve, the always-cooking-and-baking squirrel Weenie, and the baby-like Pig, and the rest of the forest denizens – such as Action Beaver, who has had a few too many bumps on the head, does not say any words (uttering only grunts and odd exclamations), spends most of his time banging into things, and in one especially amusing story here is temporarily turned into a genius by one of Skunky’s inventions. Actually, there is a kind of meta-story involving Skunky in this second volume, involving the inventor’s creation of a doomsday device that Skunky comes back from the future (via a time-travel device) to tell himself to keep away from Monkey, who otherwise “enslaves us all, and turns life into a nightmare!!” Skunky has some trouble sorting out what future Skunky wants done or not done: “I must not have done what I told me to do! RRGHH! Why didn’t I listen?” But everything involving the device works out just fine in the end, which is not really the end, since the final portion of this book includes the forest folk stumbling upon something even scarier than crazed robots and monster pants: humans. And in fact, doomsday device aside, everything does not work out just fine after all, since it turns out the “hyooomanz” have some plans that may spell doom of a different sort for everyone readers came to know and love in the first two Bunny vs. Monkey books. Stay tuned for sure – there is clearly a great deal more to come.