August 30, 2012


Curses and Blessings for All Occasions. By Bradley Trevor Greive. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Super Grammar. By Tony Preciado. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo. Scholastic. $8.99.

      Everyone who buys gift books knows what Bradley Trevor Greive does.  John Cleese puts it succinctly on the back of Curses and Blessings for All Occasions: Greive “has amassed vast piles of cash putting saccharine comments under photos of cute-looking animals.”  Well, yes, there is that.  But Greive’s comments are genuinely funny, and in his latest book he proves that he can make them not only under photos of cute-looking animals but also next to those photos and above them.  Oh, and the animals need not be cute – and the photos can be digitally manipulated!  Greive is clearly moving into new territory here.  But he remains firmly in his comfort zone, and that of readers, in one way: through cleverness.  There are 33 blessings and 33 curses in Curses and Blessings for All Occasions, on facing pages, and they really are, well, different.  “May your French kissing be awarded three Michelin stars” is the blessing on one page (above a picture of creatures with exceptionally long red tongues, suitably entwined); the curse on the opposite page reads, “May your tubes of toothpaste and hemorrhoid cream appear identical in poor light,” with the unfortunately cursed sea creature thinking “My tongue is numb” while a much smaller animal, strategically placed in the rear, is thinking, “Spearmint?”  Nor is everything here scatological.  One curse reads, “May your life begin and end with diaper rash” (downcast animal with rear end artificially reddened), while the blessing on the facing page says, “May you be reunited with your lost socks in the afterlife” (animal skeleton in socks).  Then there are the two snails offered with the blessing, “May your carpet burns attract the quiet admiration of your peers,” facing a winged hippo with a devilish expression for the curse, “May a bomber formation of incontinent geese fly over your sunroof.”  Greive will surely amass additional vast piles of cash with Curses and Blessings for All Occasions, but the book does leave one intriguing question unanswered: for whom, exactly, would you buy it?

      There is no question about who will benefit from Super Grammar: anyone who is grammatically challenged and enjoys graphic novels, comics and superheroes.  Nominally written for young readers, Tony Preciado’s book also works as a quick refresher course for high-school and college students and even for adults.  Like ABC’s famous Schoolhouse Rock animations, Super Grammar works by combining two formats: instruction and entertainment.  Thanks to Preciado’s clear, straightforward explanations of grammar and Rhode Montijo’s excellent illustrations – he really does have superhero anatomy down pat – the book is fun as well as informative.  For example, The Predicate (woman wearing thigh-high boots and a cape as part of her super costume) works with The Subject (caped crusader in red, with long blue cape) to form complete sentences, such as “The cat burglar is stealing cats” (bad guy in dark purple putting bewildered-looking cartoon cats in a sack).  The Verb (she is mostly in red, trailing a lightning bolt to represent activity) can “express a state of action,” as in the sentence, “The mutant insects destroy entire cities” (featuring three-eyed flying things that project evil green rays).  Arrayed against the superheroic types is “The Sabotage Squad” of grammar villains: “So, citizen, never make the mistake of underestimating he trickery of the sabotage squad, because when it comes to breaking the rules of grammar – there’s nobody worse.” Here you will find, for example, The Comma Splice, another thigh-high-boots woman, dressed in gray with black boots and gloves and creating improperly joined sentences such as “They need help, I must fly to the rescue” (a sentence requiring a semicolon rather than a comma).  Actually, this particular supervillain is especially insidious, since many readers will think it is correct to write, “I can’t believe it, he’s breaking loose” instead of putting a period after “it” and creating two sentences.  The “super examples” in the book are both helpful and amusing – and the illustrations are clever, showing the supervillain triumphant when something is wrong and looking frustrated when it is corrected.  Super Grammar itself is not quite perfect –supervillains seem to sneak in and win sometimes.  For example, “The Prickly Pair are causing trouble” features two cactus-spiky bad guys popping a child’s balloon, but the verb number is wrong: in American English, it should be “is causing trouble,” with “pair” (singular) as the antecedent (British English has different rules for collective nouns).  These missteps are small and infrequent, though.  As a whole, Super Grammar really is a super guide to good writing and appropriate word use, and its offbeat characters – such as a four-armed bad guy who cracks safes with ease and a purse snatcher, dressed as a skunk, who releases foul odors – make learning parts of speech a super experience.

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