January 25, 2018


Third Grade Mermaid #2: Third Grade Mermaid and the Narwhals. By Peter Raymundo. Scholastic. $12.99.

Funny Kid #1: Funny Kid for President. By Matt Stanton. Harper. $12.99.

The Magnificent Mya Tibbs No. 2: The Wall of Fame Game. By Crystal Allen. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $6.99.

     Although occasional bits of information creep into many series for readers ages 8-12, the primary purpose of most sequences for this age group is simply entertainment – sometimes silly, sometimes outrageous, sometimes both. Peter Raymundo’s second outing featuring Cora, who is a Third Grade Mermaid with most of the same issues faced by land-dwelling third-graders, has the trappings of an adventure but is really a friends-and-friendship book with tidbits of factual material sprinkled about. It involves a search for narwhals in an attempt to prove that Cora’s frenemy, Vivian Shimmermore, is wrong in saying narwhals do not really exist. This gives Raymundo a chance to give a few facts about narwhals (including some in a short bonus section at the back of the book), but it mainly provides an excuse for Cora to take a long swim with her friends Sandy (another mermaid), Salty (a whale-sized shrimp who grew to his giant size, because of human sludge, in the first Cora book), Jimmy (a rather shy jellyfish), and Larry (a sea cucumber given to speaking rather pretentiously). Cora, Sandy, Salty, Jimmy and Larry try to follow a map that Larry thoughtfully provides, showing where to observe the narwhals during their annual migration from colder to warmer waters. But of course there are mishaps – minor ones – along the way. The travelers have trouble following the map, since after all the ocean is a huge place, so they have to ask for directions from some gigantic lion’s mane jellyfish – making little Jimmy very nervous indeed. Then they run afoul of some aggressive sea pigs, which temporarily hold Cora and Salty as prisoners. Lion’s mane jellyfish and sea pigs really exist, so Raymundo gets to include a smidgen or two of information as the adventure continues – the fact that sea pigs are a type of sea cucumber actually helps the quest when Larry intervenes on his friends’ behalf. But whatever facts are included in Third Grade Mermaid and the Narwhals are of only minimal importance in a story that eventually has Cora and her friends disprove Vivian’s statement that narwhals do not exist – and Vivian cannot argue the point, since she herself turns up where the narwhals are. Eventually everyone is reconciled, Cora uses her diary of the expedition as her entry in a story-writing contest, she wins first prize, and the whole group (including Vivian) gets to appear on a magazine cover. The heavily illustrated story is lightweight and moves along nicely, and it leaves open a mystery for the next book: Salty, the giant shrimp, gradually shrinks back to regular-shrimp size during the narwhal adventure, and no one knows why. To be continued, for sure.

     The new Funny Kid series by Matt Stanton is entirely earthbound rather than waterlogged, and here too the structure involves lots and lots of illustrations of a story that hits most of the standard elements of preteen novels, and does so entertainingly. The title character’s actual name is Max Walburt, and of course he has friends and supporters (a boy named Hugo and a duck that has imprinted on Max and, early in the book, repeatedly scares him – until Max learns what imprinting is, in one of the few bits of fact that Stanton throws in). Max also has enemies, including a super-smart girl named Abby Purcell and a truly awful, nasty teacher named Mr. Armstrong. Families should know that Funny Kid for President is a book that relies heavily on toilet humor: the whole thing starts with a mystery of a poop being found in the classroom storage closet. Mr. Armstrong immediately holds Max responsible, and Max’s determination to prove he did not do it underpins the rest of the story, which quickly spirals into a class-president-election tale after the school’s diminutive principal, Mrs. Sniggles, insists that Mr. Armstrong hold an election – after which he and the new class president will talk regularly with Mrs. Sniggles herself. Max ends up as one of five candidates for the class-president job – Abby, of course, is another – and the weirdnesses of the campaign (with the poop issue never far in the background, and often in the foreground) take up most of the book. The most instructive thing here is not exactly a fact – it is a planned campaign speech that Max tries out on his parents, in which he really speaks for every preteen who is not the smartest kid in class, the fastest or most accomplished at sports, or the best-looking, because there can only be one kid who fits each of those descriptions: “So what about the rest of us?” This speech will make perfect sense to a great many readers of Funny Kid for President, even ones who do not declare their ambition to “be the kid who makes you laugh,” which is what Max wants to be. The eventual outcome of the election is almost beside the point – what matters here is how the campaign goes, how Mr. Armstrong eventually gets his well-deserved comeuppance, and how Stanton lays the groundwork for another Max-vs.-Abby competition in the planned sequel.

     The Wall of Fame Game by Crystal Allen is a sequel, to Spirit Week Showdown, in which Allen introduced Mya Tibbs and established her personality. The second book, originally published last year and now available in paperback, has a blend of factual material with fiction that is somewhat unappealing, resulting in a (+++) novel that will mainly appeal to readers who already know Mya and enjoy her personality. Mya is a nine-year-old who is stereotypically well-meaning but prone to making mistakes, and she is obsessed with cowgirls and inclined to tell tall tales. The title of the second book refers to a rather odd contest in which children’s names are put on a wall if they are able to recite lists of facts. This seems as if it would be off-putting to Mya, and indeed to readers of the books about her, but Allen makes it a big deal and an important part of the plot. Another major element is Mya’s determination to enter her mother in the annual chili cookoff – because one of the competitors, Mrs. Frazier, has commented that Mya’s now-pregnant mom has to stay off her feet and cannot possibly take part. The usual character types are here: Mya works on her mom’s behalf with her friend Connie, who was actually Mya’s nemesis in the first book; this time there is a new opponent for Mya, a girl named Naomi Jackson. Eventually everything comes out just fine, and that, in fact, is the underlying message of both Mya books: things will turn out all right and all will be well, but life does not go just the way you want it to. Some young readers, and some parents, may find Mya rather cloying and annoying, with the odd expressions she sometimes uses and her pink cowboy boots; others will consider her quirky in a pleasant way. The Wall of Fame Game is likely to be enjoyable mostly for younger preteens, perhaps ages 8-10 rather than the usual range of 8-12.

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