October 01, 2009


Magic Pickle and the Creature from the Black Legume. By Scott Morse. Graphix/Scholastic. $5.99.

Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC. By June Sobel. Illustrated by Henry Cole. Sandpiper. $5.99.

Transformers Animated: Clash of the Constructicons; Starscream Flies Again. By Annie Auerbach. HarperFestival. $3.99 each.

     These books are testimony to the versatility of the redoubtable paperback format. One is more or less a graphic novel – fifth in what has the potential to be a never-ending series; one is a short, oversize and amusing alphabet book; and two are picture-heavy, text-light stories based on a television show.

     Scott Morse’s Magic Pickle series continues its punny and often funny ways in Magic Pickle and the Creature from the Black Legume, which actually has an educational element in explaining – repeatedly – that peanuts are not nuts but legumes. The difference even proves important in defeating the evil creature. Like the previous Magic Pickle books, this one has elements of a graphic novel (page after page told in comic-book style), but also has a good deal of straight narrative (to the extent that anything is “straight” in this always skewed series). The main setting this time is a factory called Pete’s Perfect Peanuts, to which Jo Jo (Magic Pickle’s sidekick and helper) is going on a field trip with her class. A black peanut (“black legume,” see?) hatches a dastardly peanut-butter-powered villain, and the rest is history, and sometimes hysterical. There is also a videogame connection here, involving a game called SCHNOZOLA! with the bad-guy Nostrillain and good-guy Handker Chief. It’s almost too silly for words; hence all the pictures. Fans of the series will especially enjoy the post-story story, which brings the conclusion to a real conclusion.

     It’s obvious where Shiver Me Letters will begin and end – at A and Z, respectively. What is not obvious is the clever way author June Sobel and illustrator Henry Cole get from here to there. The pirate animals – led by a hook-handed crocodile captain who repeatedly roars, “R!” – set sail in search of all the letters of the alphabet, and find them in unexpected places: “They dug for doubloons and scooped up a D.” “From out of the jungle, J jumped sky-high.” “A mysterious map with an M soon appeared.” And so it goes throughout the rhymed adventure – until the exhausted crew delivers a Y and the captain says that is not enough: “Be off with ye, mates./ Go rob me a Z.” So the crew members retire to their bunks and, of course, snore “zillions of Z’s.” Originally published in 2006, Shiver Me Letters is as charming in its new paperback incarnation as it was originally.

     And speaking of incarnations: the whole point of Transformers is that they have multiple ones. That is, they can be one thing for a time, then something else (in case that wasn’t obvious from their name and last summer’s big-budget movie). Transformers can in fact be transformed not only from toys into films but also from toys into animated television series, and it is the Transformers of the animated series that star in two paperback adaptations by Annie Auerbach. Clash of the Constructicons, based on a TV episode called Rise of the Constructicons, is about two construction machines called Mixmaster and Scrapper that come into contact with “the AllSpark, the source of life for all Transformers,” and find themselves torn between friendship with the good-guy Autobots and bad-guy Decepticons. Starscream Flies Again, from a TV episode called A Fistful of Energon, features bad-guy Starscream delivering dialogue such as this: “You’re going to regret the day you were protoformed!” None of this material is to be taken the slightest bit seriously, but there is plenty of action to be imagined in looking at the scenes from the TV series, and writing that will appeal to existing fans of the Transformers in their many multimedia guises.

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