March 16, 2023

(++++) A CONFUSION OF DELIGHTFULNESS

100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli. By David LaRochelle. Illustrations by Lian Cho. Dial. $19.99.

     You have never seen a counting book quite like this, because there has never been a counting book quite like thus. Forget all that one-to-10 stuff and then 10-back-to-one. Forget those neat little additions and subtractions that kids can easily learn and adults can leave kids alone on their own to enjoy. Oh no, parents: get ready to give your mathematical abilities a bit of a workout with 100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli. And get your laughter-producing muscles ready, too, because wow, are you going to need them.

     David LaRochelle has crafted a book so clever, so utterly silly and absurd, so delightful and so engaging – and has been so well abetted by illustrator Lian Cho – that kids and adults alike need to set aside plenty of time to read and reread and delight in the whole thing, far beyond any reasonable expectation for a work that runs a mere 36 pages. Scratch that “mere,” though, since there is nothing “mere” about what LaRochelle and Cho have produced. The book’s title gets everything started: why in heaven’s name are all the dragons named Broccoli? This is never explained – but it makes for an eventual twist ending that readers will not see coming and that gives Cho an opportunity to display amazing illustrative virtuosity.

     And what about that nice even number, 100? Well, it’s a big number for the young people at whom the book is targeted – but wait, there’s more! The very first thing that happens is a fraction, as half the dragons get blown away from their home “high on a mountain near a deep dark cave.” Well, no worries: LaRochelle helpfully explains that if half the 100 disappear, there are 50 left. Still a nice even number, right? But not for long! A little later, when only 40 Broccoli dragons remain, two form a heavy metal band in New York City, so now there are 38. Wait…38? What’s an out-of-nowhere number like that doing in a book for young kids? The same thing as 34, which is how many dragons are left after one becomes a unicorn, one a werewolf, one a zombie, and one “a tiny pink poodle.” And then we march on to the number 22, and then the dragons wearing sunglasses “flew to France,” and LaRochelle does not even say how many of those there are – just that there are 13 left after the Parisian departure. You figure it out.

     All this gets increasingly confusing and almost unbearably delightful. LaRochelle even plays tricks on readers, for instance by saying that “all the dragons wearing ballerina tutus flew to Sweden” and having it turn out, on the next page, that there were no dragons wearing ballerina tutus. So now we have the number zero lurking in the book. And then we have addition and subtraction mixed and remixed, as when “5 dragons took a rocket to the moon” while “2 of the dragons from West Virginia returned.”

     This goes on and on and on, with far more intricacy and complexity than LaRochelle has any right to pack into a picture book. The numbers actually become hard to follow (ok, not that hard, but hard by the standards of kids’ books). But they all make sense at the very, very end of the book, when the total number of dragons has been reduced to zero but then magically returns to 100 – actually 101 – and as for “all named Broccoli,” that is a resounding no way as the book finishes with an artistic flourish that is not only hilarious but also guaranteed to have kids and adults alike examining every one of the new crop of dragons very carefully to figure out the relationship between each one and its name (hint: in some cases there is no relationship).

     The whole “mighty dragons” notion is part of the joke here, since there is nothing mighty about any of the sunglass-wearing, non-tutu-wearing dragons; nothing fearsome at all about a dragon that turns into a tiny pink poodle (only to reappear later re-transformed into a dragon). The whole “all named Broccoli” thing is another element of amusement, in light of what happens at the book’s conclusion. Cho’s amazing ability to create so many different-looking, different-acting dragons is just as remarkable in its own way as LaRochelle’s outré sense of humor is in its way. Cho tosses in little “eyeball kicks” (a term originating in the old Mad magazine) that have nothing to do with the story but enhance it enormously – check out the three dragons in a row wearing roller skates near the end, or the five playing instruments whose musical notes float onto a different page and get into the illustrations of three non-musical dragons. Oh – and take a look at the uniforms of the three dragons that “boarded a bus to Wisconsin to play football for the Green Bay Packers.” (Look at the expressions on members of the opposing team while you’re at it.) The numbering, the naming, the picturing, the posing, the ups and downs and sideways machinations and cityscapes and bizarre activities (10 of the dragons “became professional surfers in Hawaii”), the colors and the cuteness and the number of details to be found both in the writing and in the visualization of 100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli all combine into a picture book that really is like no other. For that matter, each of the dragons is like no other – even when their names are inexplicably identical. This is a book that celebrates imaginative thinking in just about every way possible, and even the most mathematically challenged grownup who is privileged to explore it with a child will pretty much have to give it a “1-2-3-HURRAY!” rating. Or, heck, maybe “22-13-34-HURRAY!”

(++++) TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES

Big Lies: From Socrates to Social Media. By Mark Kurlansky. Illustrated by Eric Zelz. Tilbury House. $22.95.

     A fascinating and genuinely valuable book that tries a little too hard to be visually attractive, Mark Kurlansky’s Big Lies starts by explaining that “we humans are the most highly evolved liars” – but makes it a point to show that we are scarcely alone in shading (or evading) the truth, since he compares human lying to activities such as animal camouflage (lying through coloration about whether or not you are dangerous, blending into surroundings and thus lying about whether you are an animal at all, etc.). Kurlansky places human lies on the same scale as “bluffing, exaggerating, bragging,” and discusses their use as competitive tools; and he looks a bit at socially acceptable “little white lies” and at longstanding disputes about whether lies are ever permissible: Thomas Aquinas “believed that lies are permissible when told to be helpful or as a joke,” while Immanuel Kant insisted “that all lies are harmful, ‘for a lie always harms another, if not some other particular man, still it harms mankind generally, for it vitiates the source of law itself.’”

     Even religious traditions disagree within themselves about lying, Kurlansky says: in Judaism, “the Old Testament denounces all lying” while the Talmud “cites instances when lying is permissible.” And what of Socrates? He believed in a “grand lie which will be believed by everybody” and that can therefore be used to underpin national or civic identity. That concept gets closer to the majority of what Big Lies is about, since Kurlansky’s primary interest is about “public lies” that are “told to avoid responsibility, to win elections, to disguise true intent, to distract the public from things the liar wants to hide, to change our perceptions of truth, to create chaos and confusion, to gain and retain power and wealth.” These lies, Kurlansky asserts, are genuinely dangerous and “have never been more prolific than today.”

     And so he delves into social media, the reality that it is now “faster and easier to spread lies,” and the surprising finding that “most of the lies themselves aren’t new.” He shows that many current disputes in the United States date back to the nation’s beginning, to a founding using documents that drew on Enlightenment concepts that were deeply in dispute even at the time of the colonies’ independence. He shows what Russian rulers (the 300-year Romanov dynasty) had in common with the likes of Adolf Hitler when it came to anti-Enlightenment lies, and shows how deniers of evolution, climate change, and vaccine effectiveness all draw on anti-Enlightenment sentiment that remains essentially unchanged (despite having differing targets) after three centuries. In exploring the history of societal and political lies, Kurlansky unveils some fascinating material, such as the fact that the claim of insidious Illuminati running the world actually dates to the real existence of the Bavarian Illuminati, a secret society in the 18th century. Kurlansky shows how lies about this secret society were used to, among other things, condemn the Freemasons, another secret society – among whose members were Paul Revere, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington (and Kurlansky notes that the “mysterious pyramid with an eye on the top, featured on the dollar bill, is thought to be a Freemason symbol”).

     Along the way in his discussion of lies and liars, Kurlansky discusses the supposedly inherent antagonism between science and religion. But far from dismissing religion as a bunch of lies, many famed scientists saw their work as proof of the existence of God. Francis Bacon thought scientific learning confirmed the significance of what God created, for example, and Isaac Newton considered his laws to be proof of God’s existence.

     Kurlansky’s extension of his explorations into times closer to our own era turns up all sorts of interesting material, such as an 1894 cartoon attacking newspapers for publishing “fake news” (those exact words). Regarding more-recent times, he gets into such issues as the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration and the Iran-Contra one during the Reagan years, calling that one “a trifecta of mendacity, a lie on a lie on a lie.” And Kurlansky has especially harsh words for the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush. Readers already familiar with politics, to at least a slight degree, will likely notice that Kurlansky seems especially virulent in writing about Republican presidencies and quite forgiving of Democratic ones (“it is hard to find lies [Jimmy Carter] told as president, though there may have been a few”). This may simply be an accurate assessment, or it may be colored by Kurlansky’s personal viewpoints.

     The “personal viewpoint” interpretation is at least somewhat supported by some of the oddities of the book’s presentation. In addition to some typical-of-book-design boxes highlighting specific sentences, some illustrations by Eric Zelz, a few photographs, and occasional marginal discussions (some of which are fascinating, such as Kurlansky’s visit to the tiny island where Alfred Dreyfus was imprisoned in the late 19th century after being framed for a war crime), Big Lies includes two graphic-novel sections, one in five scattered chapters and one in four. The five-chapter one, “From Russia with Love,” has Russian disinformation about vaccines being disseminated in the United States. The four-chapter one, “The Prince of Real Estate,” is an extended and very obvious attack on former President Donald Trump – and its first part immediately follows a two-page section called “How a Stable Genius Lied His Way to the Top,” which is within a chapter called “Big Dictators and Big Lies.” There is, of course, nothing wrong with an author having opinions on any subject and any person. But the inclusion of the graphic-novel sections of Big Lies is already curious: the cartoon-driven chapters are preceded and followed by traditionally written ones, making for an inexplicably confusing layout. By the time “The Prince of Real Estate” begins, the graphic storytelling elements come to seem like the main point of the book. Indeed, the book’s final narrative page is the very last page of “The Prince of Real Estate.” So it is fair to ask whether Kurlansky himself is communicating or perpetuating any lies, big or small, about someone he vociferously condemns and heartily dislikes. Readers of Big Lies really should research this on their own and come to their own conclusions – indeed, Kurlansky himself wants readers to learn how to study statements by politicians and others and determine whether they are truthful.

     There is actually a subtle irony here: it was during the Trump administration that the vaccines against COVID-19 were developed, and those are the very vaccines that Kurlansky has the Russians trying to undermine in the first graphic-novel portion of his book, “From Russia with Love.” Kurlansky himself seems to have some blind spots – but to a large extent, his point in Big Lies is that everyone has them, and certain demagogues (aided in recent times by the ease of instantaneous communication) have found ways to tap into and exploit them. Big Lies is an intriguing blend of history with a cautionary tale, full of interesting facts and catchy writing, but with its own somewhat choppy presentation – in which the author’s own predilections (and thus, by implication, susceptibility to believing lies) come through from time to time. Written clearly enough for younger readers, but analytical enough and with enough care in its factual elements for older ones, it is certainly worth reading and thinking about in our own age – when, more than ever, we can understand the wisdom of what Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710 (in a passage that Kurlansky unfortunately does not quote): “As the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers: and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”

(++++) BIG PROJECTS, UNCONVENTIONAL TWISTS

Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 1-4; Symphony in D minor (original version, 1841); Symphony in G minor, “Zwickau”; Overture, Scherzo and Finale; Overtures—“Braut von Messina,” “Genoveva,” “Scenes from Goethe’s Faust,” “Julius Caesar,” “Manfred,” “Herrmann und Dorothea.” Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Örebro, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. BIS. $39.99 (3 SACDs).

Beethoven: The Late String Quartets—Op. 127; Op. 130; Op. 131; Op. 132; Op. 135; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133. Calidore String Quartet (Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violins; Jeremy Barry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello). Signum Classics. $25.99 (3 CDs).

     There are certain normal, or at least expected, ways of handling releases of composers’ complete works in particular forms. For that matter, there are certain expectations when it comes to individual releases that do not encompass the totality of works of a specific type by the composer. Thus, listeners accustomed to the usual kinds of presentations have to set aside preconceptions of how works are offered in order to enjoy some very fine recordings that do not follow typical procedures. In the case of a three-CD release on BIS of the symphonies and overtures of Schumann, for instance, the audience has to accept this rather odd repackaging of discs that originally date to 2006-2008 in order to have the opportunity to enjoy some especially well-thought-out interpretations that use an orchestra close to the size of the ones Schumann would have expected – albeit without historically informed performance practices. There is a certain laziness to this reissue, as to others handled similarly by other companies: here, the three original SACDs are simply placed in plain paper sleeves and boxed with their three original booklets, whose writing style is variable and whose contents underwent changes between the first of these recordings and the last. The result is a boxed set that feels thrown-together – but the performances within it have lost none of their sensitivity and carefulness of presentation, and since they, after all, are the reason for purchasing the discs, it is worth putting up with some sloppiness in the overall presentation. The second and third discs in this Thomas Dausgaard collection feature symphonies at the start and finish, with two overtures separating the symphonic pieces. The first disc (actually the second to have been recorded) has Symphony No. 1 at the start and two almost-symphonies at the end: the early “Zwickau” work and Overture, Scherzo and Finale. The structural intent of all three discs is to open and close with larger, weightier material and contrast it with shorter pieces – concert overtures or ones written for dramas or Schumann’s only opera. One much-more-usual approach to presentations of Schumann’s symphonic output presents the symphonies in order – either four or five, depending on how one regards the original (1841) version of what came to be called No. 4 – with any ancillary or supplemental material added as an appendix. Another more-typical approach gives the various works chronologically – an interesting and useful way of presenting Schumann, whose style underwent notable changes over time. There is none of that form of organization here: this Dausgaard set’s arrangement takes some getting used to, although that in no way detracts from the quality of the music. The use of a chamber-sized orchestra is one of the main attractions here: Schumann’s works can at times come across as inelegantly orchestrated, even to the point of turgidity (notably in the second, final version of Symphony No. 4). Dausgaard’s ensemble size and his emphasis on clarity and careful sectional balance give us a lighter, airier Schumann than tends to appear in many other performances. Tempos are usually chosen judiciously for effective pacing, although the Scherzo from Overture, Scherzo and Finale is more of an underwhelming Allegretto here. The pleasant brightness of the “Spring” symphony and the surprisingly effective handling of the final version of No. 4 are highlights of these readings – although nothing here will lay to rest the ongoing debate as to which No. 4 “works” better. The problematic first movement of No. 2 is paced admirably quickly and with strong rhythmic emphasis, but the stateliness underlying the “Rhenish” is somewhat underplayed here. In all, though, the symphony interpretations are always thoughtful and consistent throughout each individual work, and the very fine orchestral playing benefits every one of the pieces. The overtures and “Zwickau” fragment are, on the whole, a bit less successful than the longer pieces: these are best focused with tightness and compression, especially when the underlying material is as tragic as in Manfred and Julius Caesar, but there is something a touch lightweight about these small tone poems under Dausgaard – the delicacy that aids the symphonies works less well in the overtures. Nevertheless, all these performances are very worthy ones, and it is a pleasure to have the symphony-and-overture grouping in a single boxed version, even if the arrangement of the material requires some adjustment of one’s expectations.

     There is not much unexpected in the sequence of music on a new Signum Classics release featuring the Calidore String Quartet – although there is one sort-of-surprise offered – but the release itself is out of the ordinary. Complete sets of the Beethoven string quartets almost invariably start with the six early ones, continue with the six middle ones, and conclude with the five late ones. Indeed, the early/middle/late “period” discussion of Beethoven’s music ties in large part to the differences among these quartet groupings. The Calidore String Quartet, however, has decided that its first release in a planned Beethoven cycle should be the late quartets – thus plunging listeners immediately into some of the most-complex, often unnerving and emotionally very deep material, to which Beethoven came only at the end of his quartet production. This is very difficult music both to understand and to play, and the Calidore String Quartet’s decision to offer it before recording the earlier, generally more-accessible Beethoven quartets upends the usual audience expectations regarding an ensemble’s presentation of the entire cycle. There is also, as noted, one sort-of-surprise in the music itself: instead of performing No. 13 (Op. 130) as written and appending the Grosse Fuge (Op. 133) afterwards, as is the usual procedure, this recording makes the Grosse Fuge the final movement of the quartet – as Beethoven originally intended – and appends the replacement finale that he created after being convinced that the Grosse Fuge was just too much for performers and audiences to handle as a quartet conclusion. Whether the Calidore String Quartet’s decision on this works well will be a matter of taste: this is not the only ensemble to offer the quartet this way, but this is a distinct minority approach, and it can certainly be argued that the Grosse Fuge is in fact more than the music can really handle – even though it is no longer considered nearly unplayable (just extremely difficult). In fact, the performance of the Grosse Fuge here is perhaps the highlight of the entire recording: it is played with tremendous precision, and its lines come across so clearly that its structural complexity seems both perfectly apt and absolutely necessary to make its musical points. At the same time, its monumentality really does overshadow the rest of Op. 130, so this excellent rendition does not settle the no-doubt-unsettleable argument over whether the Grosse Fuge works better on its own or as the capstone for Op. 130. It is worth noting that the Cavatina in Op. 130, as gorgeous a movement as Beethoven ever wrote, is in its own way as effective and emotionally enthralling as the Grosse Fuge. Indeed, elsewhere in this recording, the most-engaging elements are in the variation-based slow movements, whose lyricism flows forth abundantly and always with deep involvement from the performers that translates with great sensitivity to listeners. A few of the faster movements, on the other hand, can be nitpicked, including one within Op. 130 itself: the fourth movement, just before the Cavatina, sounds a bit too heavy and perhaps even a little hesitant. Elsewhere, there is a bit too much speed, notably in the middle of the Scherzando vivace of Op. 127. And there is a very occasional veer toward the flaccid, if not quite the ponderous, as in the Alla marcia of Op. 132, which is a touch mannered. It is important, however, to emphasize that these nitpicks are just that – nitpicks – not criticisms of the players’ overall approach, which is carefully wrought and delivered through remarkably meticulous ensemble playing. The sheer technical prowess of the Calidore String Quartet is everywhere on display here, and their interpretative abilities shine through again and again despite an occasional (very occasional) misstep. Their decision to start their Beethoven cycle with the late quartets may be unconventional, but this recording certainly shows that they are more than capable of handling everything Beethoven produced in the string-quartet medium. And the uniformly high quality of this first entry in their recordings raises considerable hope (and expectations) for their upcoming readings of the rest of Beethoven’s quartets.

March 09, 2023

(++++) TWO OF A KIND? NOT QUITE

Big Nate: Nailed It! By Lincoln Peirce. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Big Nate: Next Stop, Superstardom! Based on Nickelodeon episodes written by Michael Ryan, Lissy Klatchko, and Emily Brundige. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Adaptations can be strange things. One would think that people who see the strengths of a comic strip such as Lincoln Peirce’s long-running Big Nate would want to focus on those strengths when adapting the strip to a new medium. But that is not how things work. Big Nate as a comic becomes a jumping-off point for its TV adaptations, but the strip’s structure and emphases are changed dramatically for video purposes. Just how dramatically becomes abundantly clear when looking at the latest comic-strip collection and the latest Nickelodeon-based book. Aside from the exclamation points at the end of both books’ titles, the two have very little in common except for characters’ names.

     Peirce’s reliably amusing school-focused character comedy is everywhere in Big Nate: Nailed It! Nate lives in a perpetually recycled sixth-grade universe, where the strip revolves around his sense of self-importance and his interactions with classmates, teachers, and (to a lesser extent) his family (father and sister). Peirce has become exceptionally adept at keeping the strip fresh by figuring out specific elements, often ones that have existed in the background, onto which he can turn his focus. In the latest collection, for example, there is an extended series about Nate’s weird hair – something with which readers are quite familiar. Peirce draws it in tufts: six larger ones (three to each side) and one smaller one (straight up, in the middle). A new student, on meeting Nate, immediately asks, “What’s with your hair?” And that causes an ongoing series of speculations on why his hair looks like that and what, if anything, can be done to change it. For example, Nate’s father explains, “Your hair’s a quirk! Like someone having tons of freckles! Or an extra finger!” Nate does not find this reassuring. Nor are matters helped when Dee Dee tries to rearrange the tufts: they pop back into place (with seven audible “pops”). Francis and Teddy are not much help either, saying Nate’s hair is “weird” and looks “like pieces of licorice rolled in cat hair.” The especially amusing thing in all this is that the cartoon characters are exactly right – Peirce draws the hair so it does look just the way they describe it. Nate, of course, eventually decides that his hair is one thing that makes him unique (which it is!), so why change it? This sort of mini-adventure, exploring one element of Nate’s life before moving on to another, is what the Big Nate comic strip is all about. The new collection also has recurring themes, such as Nate’s relationship with Artur, who is dating Nate’s longtime crush, Jenny, and who excels at everything without even trying: Nate wants someone to go with him when he practices batting, and Artur agrees to come even though he says he is not good at baseball, and of course when Artur takes his turn, a pro baseball scout happens by and says he’s “got one of the sweetest swings I’ve ever seen.” In other sequences, Nate’s latest search for some sort of good luck charm that will let him succeed at various things without working too hard turns up a real winner: a pencil with which he finds a $20 bill and gets the captain of the cheer squad to agree to go on a date – before, predictably, everything goes awry. Elsewhere, Nate gets maneuvered into playing chess against Francis’ cat, Pickles; accidentally lets the class hamster escape, leading his student nemesis (Gina) to plan to tell his teacher nemesis (Mrs. Godfrey) unless Nate promises to do Gina an unspecified favor at an unspecified future time; and Nate again proves his mastery of Prank Day, which Peirce handles especially well by never showing the pranks themselves – he only has characters comment on them, allowing readers to think about what must have happened and conjure up their own extreme images.

     But there is no conjuring of images in a TV adaptation: the pictures are right there all the time, and they are what viewers tune in to see. Furthermore, snippets of interactions between Nate and others in his world are not the point in the Nickelodeon series based on Big Nate. There has to be continuity throughout each episode. And that leads the creators of the TV series to make significant changes in multiple characters and in the emphasis of the plots. The latest TV-based collection includes three episodes. One has Nate dreading an upcoming test and creating an elaborate plan to get it cancelled – a plot initially in line with the comic strip. And as Nate thinks, comic-strip-like drawings are seen – and this makes sense, since comic-strip Nate actually draws strips-within-the-strip from time to time (although not nearly as often recently as in the past). But the focus of the episode quickly gets spread out and spread thin: the teachers, and school principal Nichols (who is a much less sympathetic character on TV than in the comic strip), huddle and chant against arch-enemy Jefferson Middle School; Nate helps sister Ellen with baking through his unexpected expertise (which turns out to be very important); Gina plays a much bigger role as nemesis than in the comic strip; and Nate’s father, Martin, is the center of attention through much of the episode – he is a bit player in the strip but much more significant on TV, in line with the usual “feckless father” expectations of TV comedy. Martin dresses as a clown for a funeral, gets arrested, slides into a sewer, tries to rescue Nate from “man-witches,” and so on – playing a much bigger role than he ever assumes in the comic strip. The second episode recounted in the book focuses on figure skating, which Nate hates (as in the strip) but is forced to do (not in the strip) – and which turns out to provide a crucial connection to Chad, a rotund and adorable bit player in the comic strip who becomes central in this episode, much as Nate’s dad has previously been the focus in his clown costume. In fact, Nate’s dad is the other focus here, since the story has him constitutionally unable to say the word “no” to Nate, no matter how outrageous his son’s requests may be: “How can I say no to him without crushing his spirit?” This does not fit the character at all, and things get even sillier (although not more involving) when Nate’s school friends try to teach Martin how to say the word “no.” The Chad and Martin elements eventually get mixed together in an ice-skating conclusion that keeps the focus away from Nate – as is often the case in the TV series (but not in the comic strip). The final TV episode recounted in the book is about the kids’ rock band, Fear the Mollusk, in which Nate is lead singer and so awful that his friends actively seek a replacement despite Nate’s attempts to stay in charge. This somewhat fits Peirce’s view of Nate, whose lack of self-understanding is a defining characteristic – but while the comic strip has Nate simply not knowing when he is bad at things, the TV show has him as a less-engaging character who is well aware of his shortcomings but determined to do whatever he wants anyway. Again, much of what happens here involves making the episode about characters other than Nate: Artur turns out to have a great singing voice but a strong reluctance to use it (much as Chad, in the ice-skating episode, is given great on-ice ability that he avoids using); and Martin is again a pratfall-prone, pathetic central character, lying to Nate by claiming to be a C.E.O. when he is really a bathroom attendant. This TV-based (+++) book will be enjoyable for young readers who only know Nate and Peirce’s other characters from television. But it will disappoint those who are familiar with the underlying Big Nate comic strip, which is richer, less formulaic and better plotted and focused than any of these TV-derived stories. Compared with Peirce’s original strip, the TV show is just not as funny and just not as much fun.