August 21, 2014


Fly Guy #14: Fly Guy’s Amazing Tricks. By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

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

The Zombie Chasers #5: Nothing Left to Ooze. By John Kloepfer. Illustrated by David DeGrand. Harper. $16.99.

Galaxy’s Most Wanted #1. By John Kloepfer. Illustrated by Nick Edwards. Harper. $12.99.

     Some series are so reliable that parents can buy them for children without even pre-reading the new entries. Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy books are an example. These easy-to-read adventures always start by explaining about Fly Guy’s ability to say the name of the boy who keeps him as a pet, Buzz – and then moving into a short and amusing story of boy and fly doing things together. In Fly Guy’s Amazing Tricks, Buzz shows friends how Fly Guy can do the backstroke in any liquid, fly around swiftly and confusingly in the “Dizzy Doozie,” and perch beneath Buzz’s nose as “the Big Booger.” All is fine with the other kids, but when Fly Guy shows the same tricks to Buzz’s parents during a family meal, Buzz realizes some control is needed. So he tells Fly Guy only to do tricks after hearing the word NOW. Then, wouldn’t you know it, Buzz and Fly Guy encounter a neighborhood bully, who insults Buzz (mildly); Buzz tries to ignore him; but the kid gets angry and orders Buzz to answer him NOW. And so Fly Guy goes into action, confusing the bully so much with the tricks that he bumps into a garbage can and is chased away by “a zillion angry flies.” A typically silly and true-to-its-characters series entry, Fly Guy’s Amazing Tricks will be fun for anyone who already enjoys these offbeat little books.

     Fans of Lucille Colandro’s many variations on the old rhyme about the old lady who swallowed a fly (and lots of other things) will also have plenty of fun with that series’ newest entry – which is really where things should have started, since this one uses the original rhyming story. But it does not use it in quite as fatal a way as the original, which constantly repeats the line, “Perhaps she’ll die,” and ends with the old lady swallowing a horse, after which “she’s dead, of course.” None of that here – these variations are strictly for humor, and although not all the books in this sequence are rhymed or plotted successfully, this one is. Here the refrain is “She won’t say why,” and nobody dies – not even the fly, spider, bird, cat, dog, goat or cow swallowed by the always-smiling old lady and landing in her capacious stomach. At the end, the old lady simply coughs everyone up, and everybody becomes friends with everybody else – a thoroughly silly conclusion that is right in line with Colandro’s usual handling of these books and that, thanks to Jared Lee’s typically enjoyable illustrations, makes the whole thoroughly implausible tale as amusing as it can be.

     Parents may want to pre-read John Kloepfer’s series for slightly older readers, ages 8-12, to be sure they are comfortable with the grossness level – which, however, they can be pretty sure will not bother many kids in the target age group at all. The original trilogy of The Zombie Chasers has now expanded into a series of “re-zombification” books, so there is now a fifth book in the overall series, with David DeGrand’s illustrations ably taking over for the earlier ones of Steve Wolfhard. The plot of the extended sequence is pretty much what you would expect: Zack and his zombie-chasing team (Madison, Ozzie, Rice and Zoe) are hunting for a lasting antidote to the zombie virus, their previous discovery having turned out to keep the bad bug at bay only temporarily. In Nothing Left to Ooze (bad puns are part and parcel of this series) they are searching for Madison’s cousin, Olivia, which entails (among other things) traveling to the nation’s best amusement park and dealing with such things as zombified vacationers. In a typical scene, a Canadian Air Force pilot named Chet is zombie-bitten: “‘Hey, man,’ Ozzie spoke to the delirious pilot as the zombie virus coursed through his bloodstream. ‘You’re about to turn into a zombie. You have to take these.’ Ozzie gave him a small handful of ginkgo pills. ‘Will this keep me from turning into a zombie?’ Chet asked. ‘Well, not really,’ said Ozzie. ‘But it’ll keep you from turning us into zombies.’” And there are, of course, the usual narrow escapes: “‘Hey, man, hurry up!’ Zack called to Ozzie as he limped quickly toward the pull-down gate at the exit. ‘We gotta get outta here!’” A few super zombies, popcorn/brain-flavored gumballs, Floridian freakazoids and “a dense pack of undead brain-gobblers” later, the Zombie Chasers realize they have to get off the mainland to figure things out, thereby setting the scene for the next book in the series, which will be called – no kidding – Zombies of the Caribbean.

     Meanwhile, back at the origin of series like this, Kloepfer is starting Galaxy’s Most Wanted in a similar vein – this time with illustrations by Nick Edwards. The preteen group here includes Kevin and his science-camp friends, Tara, TJ and Warner. Together they make contact with actual alien life and get to meet an actual alien named Mim, who is cute and purple and fuzzy and four-eyed (literally four-eyed; this has nothing to do with wearing eyeglasses). But Mim tells the kids he is in trouble because of some galactic baddies who are after him, so the Earth kids have to hide him (they have him put on a hoodie) and help him. Soon enough, a pursuer shows up, yelling “‘Gluck-gluck-Mim-yim-yarkle’” and being as scary as only a giant extraterrestrial insect can be. Mim explains that the “space poachers” are after his entire species, “hunting us down and killing us for our fur so they can make coats out of us. It can get really cold in outer space.” So now the kids really need to help Mim, and they do a pretty darned good job of it, too, until they begin suspecting that maybe Mim is not telling them the whole truth, as in maybe not even 1% of it – and soon there are issues involving positron force fields, a “half-cyborg ET tracker,” a holographic rap sheet, a giant spider named Poobah, and all sorts of other nonsensical goodies that will undoubtedly delight preteen readers who are tired of earthbound zombies and looking for alternative amusements. These Kloepfer series are easy to follow, easy to read, plot-and-action driven (the characters are virtually identical), and packed with just enough consistent fun so that both Nothing Left to Ooze and Galaxy’s Most Wanted #1 get (+++) ratings. Some kids, however, will rate them higher – ones who are thrilled by dialogue such as, “‘Umm, hey, nimrods… There’s kind of more important stuff going on here than the Invention Convention. Like saving the world.’”

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