Jack the Tripper. By Gene Barretta. Harcourt. $16.
Mystery Ride. By Scott Magoon. Harcourt. $16.
It’s fun to find the mysterious in everyday life, as these two books do. Jack the Tripper is about the seemingly ordinary students at seemingly ordinary Dizzie Day Elementary School – and the rash of trippings that seemingly strikes them. Oh, there is something nefarious going on! Polly gets tripped and loses her book report…Winston gets tripped and loses the band candy…the twins get tripped…and soon there are multiple sightings of a black-booted fiend dubbed Jack the Tripper. Or are there? Well, this is a school headed by the wise and noble Dr. Dizzie, who “combed his hair with a fork and [whose] best friend was a monkey.” And fast approaching is the Dizzie Day Parade, where “anything goes” – anything can happen and usually does. Gene Barretta shakes and stirs this mixture of oddball characters and events into a delicious concoction – with especially delightful illustrations – that effectively warns students about the dangers of lying and peer pressure, but does so in such a lighthearted way that the eventual appearance of Jack the Tripper himself (his black-caped figure taking up almost two full pages) is sure to provoke shrieks of recognition and laughter. A sendup of mystery books with a real mystery at its heart – and a big heart it is – Jack the Tripper will trip lightly off the page and gently tap kids’ funnybones.
Scott Magoon’s Mystery Ride is more teachy and preachy, but still highly enjoyable. It starts with a warning: no matter how much you like going places in the car with your parents, beware when they tell you it’s time for a mystery ride! That means, says the narrator – the second of the three bear children – that “they’re taking us someplace we would never, EVER want to go.” Supermarket…hardware store…dump and recycling center…clothing store – UGH! And it gets worse: parents sometimes realize the “mystery ride” trick isn’t working, so they say the family is taking a “mystery FUN ride,” which is definitely not fun. More things to do – ARRGGHH! Ahh, but then, after all the errands are finished, Mom and Dad know how to make the very end of the mystery ride enjoyable after all, with a final stop for a special treat for all the kids. Magoon does lay his message on a little thickly: “Mom and Dad say that sometimes it’s good not to know where you’re going and that getting there is half the adventure. The other half, Dad says, is getting your errands done.” But thanks to pleasantly cartoonish drawings and an overall lighthearted tone, Mystery Ride manages to take kids on a very pleasant journey indeed.