January 05, 2006


Barry, Boyhound. By Andy Spearman. Knopf. $15.95.

Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money. By Christopher Paul Curtis. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.95.

Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family. By Steven R. Schirripa & Charles Fleming. Delacorte Press. $15.95.

     Here’s a trio of not-to-be-taken-too-seriously romps for preteens.  Barry, Boyhound is a simple story about Barry, who looks like a boy but is actually a dog…and about his straightforward environment, which includes telepathic squirrels, a squashed frog, an exploding raccoon and a couple of talking fleas.  Hmm.  Maybe this isn’t so simple after all.  This is Andy Spearman’s first novel, and it shows a good sense of comic timing and pacing, plus design elements likely to be especially attractive to preteen boys: photos, drawings, multiple typestyles, and occasional forays into yuckiness (“maggots are the little wormy bugs called larvae that hatch after flies lay their eggs on dead animals or in a pile of rotting old disgusting garbage”).  There’s stuff here about Sasquatch, Kublai Khan, a typical boy’s brain (“girls: lobe not yet activated”), how to pick a poodle, George Washington Carver, and the five phases of upset mothers.  It’s a quick read and lots of fun.

     The same can be said of Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money, in which the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bud, Not Buddy discovers his loopy side: “(Here’s a word of warning: NEVER, EVER, EVER LICK THE CANDLES ON A BIRTHDAY CAKE.  Steven’s tongue hurt for three weeks after this little stunt.)”  The book’s plot revolves around a quadrillion-dollar bill (a one with 15 zeroes).  Nine-year-old Steven gets the bill from the blind man in the neighborhood, Mr. Chickee, with whom Steven spends time on Saturday mornings.  Mr. Chickee doesn’t know how big the bill is, of course, and “Steven’s experience with really big, gigantic, humongous numbers actually went only to 635,541,” so what’s to be done about this bill?  Is it even real?  Enter Agent Fondoo of the government, determined to get the bill back – and enter, on Steven’s side, his best friend, Russell, and Zoopy the giant dog.  Predictable mayhem – and some that is not so predictable – ensues.  Everything is frothy and amusing.

     Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family is not as silly; but it is, in its own way, equally enjoyable.  This is a book with “heart” written all over it – a family story.  Watch that word “family,” though: coauthor Steven R. Schirripa plays Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri on “The Sopranos.”  And this book is all about an Italian family – but not that kind of family.  Schirripa and Charles Fleming, a novelist and entertainment reporter, tell the story of Nicholas Borelli II, who lives with his family in suburban New Jersey (okay, where else?).  But the important part of this book is connected not with the Garden State but with Brooklyn, New York, where Nicholas ends up having to stay with family because of a septic-tank explosion at his summer camp.  In Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, Nicholas finds out about and connects with his Italian roots, learning the culture, filling up on the food, and picking up the nickname that is the book’s title.  The authors try a little too hard to force warmth into Nicky’s story – everyone is so gosh-darned well meaning all the time! – but the characters are entertaining (if one-dimensional), and the idea of learning about and enjoying one’s past really does have resonance in a country that remains, after all, a nation of immigrants.

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