April 26, 2018
(+++) GOING BUGGY
Monsters Unleashed No. 1. By John Kloepfer. Illustrated by Mark Oliver. Harper. $6.99.
Monsters Unleashed No. 2: Bugging Out. By John Kloepfer. Illustrated by Mark Oliver. Harper. $16.99.
Fly Guy Presents: Police Officers. By Tedd Arnold. Scholastic. $3.99.
The second book in John Kloepfer’s entertaining, if formulaic, Monsters Unleashed series ratchets up the ickiness quotient of the sequence by introducing something even worse than the monsters found in the first volume: bugs. Lots of them. Billions, in fact. And not just any bugs. No, these are 3D-printed thingies created by one of Freddie Liddle’s classmates, and they are about to be a big challenge to Freddie, his buddies, and their pet monsters. But first – well, anyone who wants to get the full flavor, so to speak, of Bugging Out, really needs to start with Monsters Unleashed No. 1, originally published last year and now available in paperback. It falls squarely into the typical-preteen-fantasy-adventure mode, in which groups of kids (largely indistinguishable from each other) band together to deal with issues that are much simpler and more straightforward to handle (although admittedly somewhat ickier) than the problems and difficulties of everyday real life. Kloepfer, a virtuoso at this sort of tale, starts the series (amply illustrated by Mark Oliver) by assembling the team, making sure there are a few nods to differing appearances and ethnic backgrounds. The primary protagonist is sixth-grader Freddie, who is the opposite of his name, being big (six-feet-four-inches tall) and rather klutzy. The child of divorced parents, he has moved to New Mexico and found only one friend, a small Hispanic boy named Manny Vasquez. The three other members of the “inner circle” here start out as Freddie’s enemies: they are bullies – a jock and jerk named Jordan, an “evil mega-nerd” named Quincy, and a black wannabe actress named Nina. Trying to handle his feelings about his tormentors, Freddie draws three monsters based on them, and then, with Manny’s help, uses, yes, a 3-D printer to make actual physical versions of the creatures – called Kraydon, Mega-Q and Yapzilla. But there is something mysterious and magical about this particular printer (never explained; why bother?), and the monsters it makes come to life – and start growing enormously as soon as they come in contact with water. Soon enough, mayhem ensues throughout the school, where as usual the adults are oblivious and/or clueless and/or invisible. Eventually, though, Freddie tames the monsters by understanding how they think. To do that, he has to enlist the kids on whom he modeled them – Jordan, Quincy and Nina – in the anti-monster brigade, with the result that the kids, working together in newfound friendship, rescue the town. The monsters are returned to a harmless state, shrunken to adorable size and cooperativeness – and hence are available for the onslaught of insects in the second book. The problem is that the 3D-printed bad bugs are strong, fast and nasty – and growing. And try as they might (and they do try), the kids and the now-nice monsters cannot smash and stomp the baddies quickly enough to save the town this time. Oh no!! What can they do?? “It’s like we are in our own video game, Freddie thought. Except there are no do-overs in this game of monsters. This one is life-and-death.” So everybody dies and – no, just kidding! Of course the kids and monsters emerge triumphant, and in fact there are more monsters here than in the first book, notably including one that the kids vote four-to-two to name Slurp (the losing two votes are for Filburt). Slurp, an “octovarkephant” (figure out what animal bits he contains!), has “huge waggling snouts” that are “like vacuum cleaners,” a big help in sucking up the bad bugs, known as “entomons” because the first two are “parentomons.” There is also an “entomonster” that, err, is really big. Anyway, everything works out just fine, with cupcakes for everyone at the end and the miraculous 3D printer taken out of action but not actually destroyed – after all, who says the second book of Monsters Unleashed needs to be the last one? Certainly not Kloepfer and Oliver – who, by the way, has an absolutely classic-of-its-type illustration in Bugging Out, showing the team members staring directly at the reader, wearing determined get-the-bugs expressions while holding weapons ranging from cans of bug spray to lacrosse sticks and a double-sided oar.
Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy tends to have much milder adventures with his boy, Buzz, than Freddie Liddle and his friends have. But Fly Guy has some of his experiences in the real world as well as in fiction, specifically in the Fly Guy Presents “field trip” books. The latest of these, Police Officers, follows the pattern of earlier books (Space, Firefighters, Castles, White House and others) in using the drawings of Fly Guy and Buzz along with real-world photos to give Fly Guy’s young fans a simple but accurate introduction to everyday topics. One of the best things about these short books is the way Arnold presents surprising information along with the basics. In Police Officers, for example, he has Buzz mention that Hawaii is the only U.S. state that does not have a statewide police force; and he has Fly Guy get upset about the SWAT team because he thinks they carry “swatterzz,” giving Buzz the chance to explain that the letters stand for Special Weapons And Tactics. The basic narrative of the book is suitably simple: “A law is a rule. …When someone breaks these laws, they have committed a crime.” And some of the photos are particularly helpful for children who may hear adults discussing police activity – for example, one photo shows what a dashboard camera looks like in a police car; another shows the size and shape of a body-worn camera; and there are two pictures of officers riding on horseback: “Mounted officer patrols are useful in crowds since they have a better view than officers on foot.” There is good information on when to call 9-1-1 and what to do if you call it by mistake (“stay on the phone to let the dispatcher know you are okay”). And there are even brief explanations, with photos, of uniformed services that sometimes assist the police, including the National Guard and United States Marshals Service. Fly Guy Presents: Police Officers should take a lot of the mystery, and perhaps some of the fear, out of any encounters that young children might have with the police. And it can open the door to a family discussion of what the police do in the family’s own neighborhood – multiple photos show police-community interactions, and Arnold even has Buzz remark, “A police officer might be your neighbor.”