January 19, 2012


Showoff. By Gordon Korman. Scholastic. $16.99.

B Magical #6: The Superstar Sister. By Lexi Connor. Scholastic. $5.99.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

     Gordon Korman’s fourth book about Griffin Bing, “The Man With The Plan,” and his friends – human and canine – will not disappoint fans of the first three, Swindle, Zoobreak and Framed. Nor will it surprise them. Once again, former attack dog Luthor is at the center of a series of misbehaviors and misunderstandings; once again, Griffin comes up with an over-elaborate plan to set things right; once again, things do not go as they should, or as Griffin plans for them to go; and once again, everything works out just fine anyway. The plot involves dog shows: Luthor goes wild at one and is accused of ruining the national champion’s career; Griffin and his friends decide Luthor should become the new national champion; this requires tracking down “mad Russian” dog trainer Dmitri Trebezhov, who has retired and is evading everyone; Griffin and friends manage to find him, even though no one else (including the press) has been able to; Dmitri is attacked with hair remover in what appears to be a misfiring of an attempt to remove Luthor from competition; and at one point, Korman writes that even ”The Man With The Plan had no answer” to the various questions and problems swirling about. Dmitri decides that Griffin will handle Luthor, under Dmitri’s direct supervision, at the Global Kennel Society competition, “the Super Bowl of dog shows,” where the Doberman will be designated “Lex Luthor Savannah Spritz-o-matic.” The last part of that name refers to an invention made by Griffin’s father that, surprisingly, works, and is crucial to finding out who is behind the various threats and attacks on people and animals alike. “‘We may take issue with your methods, but none could argue about what you did for Luthor,’” Griffin’s mom eventually says, in a summation that could stand just as well for the other books in this series, including ones not yet written but sure to come.

     Less elaborate and considerably shorter, the B Magical books by Lexi Connor are equally reliable in delivering expected stories in easy-to-read prose. The sixth in the series, The Superstar Sister, involves a visit to B’s school by the TV talent show, You’ve Got It! B (short for Beatrix) is sure her older sister, Dawn, will be “discovered” by the show, since Dawn does a great dance routine. But someone is out to sabotage Dawn – the unscrupulous “nasty freckle-face boy,” Jason Jameson – so B has to find a way to protect her big sister and stop Jason’s nefarious plot. This is a straightforward idea, except for the magic. For B and Dawn are from a magical family (hence the title of the series), with most family members casting spells through rhyme creation but with B doing so by spelling words. So B’s mom rhymes up a recipe for taco salad by saying, in part, “Mash garlic with avocado,/ Onion, and a ripe to-mah-to.” But when B wants to think up a certain type of story, she spells out “R-O-M-A-N-C-E,” and when she wants Mozart, the hamster, to talk for a while, she spells out “S-P-E-A-K.” B herself is not competing for the talent show, but she is taking part in the Magical Rhyming Society’s Young Witch Competition. The two events take place the same night, and there are complications because Dawn is angry at B at the time, and Jason does come up with a way to spoil Dawn’s dance routine, but B saves the day even though it means missing out on success in her own competition, but that’s all right because family values are what matter most, and – well, there is nothing surprising here, but there are lots of warm, fuzzy feelings, and that should be plenty of magic for most readers.

     The Old Lady who swallows just about everything in Lucille Colandro’s book series clearly has something magical about her, too: she never chokes on anything and manages to transform all that swallowed stuff into something pleasant and amusing at the end of each book. But even devoted readers of the series may think Colandro and illustrator Jared Lee go a little too far in There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover! This is a book with a St. Patrick’s Day theme, as is clear from the clover itself and the leprechaun seen at the beginning as well as toward the end. But the point of the various swallowed objects is not clear here. The original rhyme on which all these books are built has an old lady swallow a fly, then a spider to catch the fly, then a bird to get the spider, then a cat to catch the bird, and so on. Here the Old Lady first swallows the clover, then a daisy (“to brighten the clover”), then a butterfly (“to rest on the daisy”), and so forth – but the connections are at best very strained ones. What eventually emerges from the Old Lady’s mouth as everything she swallows comes back up is something clever, but again, it is strained, and may not even be entirely clear to some readers. These short books are modestly enjoyable, with Lee’s amusing illustrations (especially of the Old Lady) a highlight; but this one has even less substance to it than others in the series. Still, families looking for a touch of St. Patrick’s Day fun will find some here.

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