May 18, 2017
(++++) SIBLINGS AND OTHER PROBLEMS
Kid Amazing vs. the Blob. By Josh Schneider. Clarion. $16.99.
Shorty & Clem. By Michael Slack. Harper. $17.99.
Many kids like to imagine themselves as superheroes, doing superheroic deeds with superpowers. Josh Schneider takes the idea into much-more-amusing territory, though, with Kid Amazing vs. the Blob. Here we have the most mundane circumstances possible: a young boy named Jimmy is called on by his mother to find out why his baby sister is crying. What is not mundane is that Jimmy responds in superheroic mode. Schneider gets the whole scenario just right: Jimmy “touches the tennis racket like this and pulls the light string like so” and heads out of his room through a “secret door and into a secret elevator” that takes him to an underground warren of passages equipped with everything from alligators to dinosaur fossils to a space shuttle. A huge string of bright-yellow “AAAAAAA,” representing “an extremely annoying howl,” stretches over the pages as Jimmy becomes Kid Amazing, wearing footie pajamas, dishwashing gloves and a baseball cap – all described at the bottom of the pages in typical superhero-ese: “These rare red dishwashing gloves are there to shield his mighty hands from lava, ice, lasers, acid, toxic goo, and pruny-ness.” Soon Jimmy contacts “the Commissioner” (his mom), who asks him to find out what the howling is all about. Jimmy knows it is “the Blob,” and promises to “take care of her.” So he follows a “stink trail” that leads “right to the Blob’s lair” and appears in Schneider’s illustrations as a green miasma out of which monster heads emerge – air so smelly that even a picture on the wall has to wear a gas mask. Jimmy spritzes the stink with some perfume whose smell he likes but that his mother did not want when Jimmy gave it to her (it smells like French fries). Then he heads along a trail of slime right to the Blob “on her throne” (in her high chair). She continues to yell so loudly that “the howl is melting his brain,” but then Jimmy finds “the Blob’s howl neutralizer” (a pacifier) and pops it into the baby’s mouth. And the “AAAAAAA,” which has been covering the entire background of several pages, suddenly stops – with Kid Amazing going on to explain to the Commissioner that “the Blob needs a new stink-containment unit” and suggesting that a cookie would be a suitable reward. Kid Amazing has indeed saved the day – except that, at the book’s very end, his sister has pulled off her stink-containment unit (diaper) and there is about to be another big mess for Kid Amazing to handle. Kid Amazing vs. the Blob is at once so realistic and so far out that kids who are older siblings, whether they are amazing or not, will immediately recognize the circumstances – and probably start planning a secret underground base of their own.
Schneider’s watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations fit Kid Amazing vs. the Blob every bit as well as Michael Slack’s Photoshop digital ones fit Shorty & Clem. Slack’s book is about roommates but could just as well be about siblings. The fact that Shorty is a big-eyed, eyeglasses-wearing dinosaur (a “shortysaurus,” a kind of compressed T. rex), and Clem is a small blue bird, does nothing to disguise the fact that these are good friends who have a quandary to handle. Actually, Shorty is the one with the issue: while Clem is away, a package arrives, and Shorty is delighted – until ,he discovers that it is addressed to Clem, not to him. Obviously, Shorty cannot open Clem’s package – but oh, how he wants to! So, instead of opening it, he tries to figure out what must be inside. It could be a race car, Shorty decides, so he will drive the car-containing box; and he does just that, with a “vroom vrooom vroooom” that soon becomes a “CRASH!” Oops. But at least the box bounced back from the crash – maybe that means it has a trampoline inside. “I will not open Clem’s package,” Shorty repeats to himself, but he can jump on it! So the box gets partly crushed and makes a “thump” noise – which leads Shorty to decide that there must be bongos inside, so he plays them by “playing” the box, which he does with considerable enthusiasm and by use of his tail as well as his arms. Wait! No, there are no bongos in the box, thinks Shorty. There are monkeys in it – he just has to see them. But…but…this is Clem’s package. Now what? Well, suffice it to say that Shorty’s self-control goes only so far, and that when Clem comes back, “he is going to be so mad.” And Clem does come back – with a surprise for Shorty that goes beyond the surprise of the box and its contents. The result is that everything works out just fine, Shorty and Clem are closer than ever, and the super-silly illustrations (against plain white backgrounds) manage to convey a wide range of emotions without ever letting things get too serious. Parents may have to reinforce the lesson that it is not really all right to open anything addressed to someone else – but at the same time, they will find that Shorty & Clem neatly and very cutely addresses kids’ insatiable curiosity, and the difficulty of waiting even a tiny bit longer for whatever super surprise is just about to be revealed.