Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner

The recent crop of metafictional books has left me not lovin' this technique as much as when I first encountered it in children's literature. Or perhaps, reading authors who are really good at it, reveals the lesser talents. Either way, this one goes on my hoo-rah list. I loved it like I love fresh corn on the cob (I'm making a connection with my crop statement. I'm also hungry. I'm also giving you a taste of how this book is written). Imagine a Lemony Snicket-type snarky narrator wired on 10 cups of coffee and inserting his thoughts so much I would  argue he is the main character. That's the book, "The Templeton Twins." The over-the-top, babbling narrator never shuts up, pointing out how the book is organized, why he chose to write it this way, why he is using certain words, and basically poking fun at everything under the literary sun. (By the way, I reeeeeaaaallly like the word, "snarky". It has a snappy ring to it, don't you know. What's that? You want to know what it means? Look it up yourself. I have a review to write.)

Figures of speech, acronyms and character names are in every chapter such as the metonymic expression, "Abigail's eyes fell on that drawing of a balloon mounted on the refrigerator. By that, I do not mean that her eyeballs literally dropped out of her head onto the drawing. I mean the picture caught her attention." (I think that's called, metonymy. Isn't it? Ahhhh, please correct me if I'm wrong. This is the reason I NEVER became an English teacher. As Weiner would say, "LET'S MOVE ON.") Acronyms scatter the pages like leaves with my personal favorite, the STB or Self-Tensioning Book Ends ("beloved by librarians throughout the universe") and names that bounce like a superball such as Dan D. Dean - sounds like dandy, Dean D. Dean - sounds like dee-dee-dee, or Nanny Nan Noonan- sounds like na-na-na-na-nah. You'd think this nattering narrator would get annoying, but I never reached that point; the author reigns in at the right point keeping the pace going along with my laughter. The "Questions for Review" at the end of each chapter have hilarious questions that parody reviews or tests students take in school: 
  1. What were the names of Abigail and John, the Templeton twins? 
  2. Bonus Question: There is no bonus Question. Proceed to Question 3. 
  3. Isn't it a splendid thing that we have begun? (Hint: No. It means I must write some more. LET'S MOVE ON.)
The author is experimenting with how stories are presented with graphics, photos, and voice in surprising ways. While the action and cartoonish characters take a back seat to the humor, I admired how Ellis Weiner ties the plot points together and creates his own unique, goofy story while exposing craft at the same time.

Meet the 12-year-old Templeton Twins: Abigail, the genius, and John, the inventor. Abigail and John's mom has just died and they are finagling their father into buying them a dog; a common theme in children's books. You'd think this overused method of moving the plot along would be boring, but the narrator explains he knows this and points it out by writing, "asking for a dog is as old as the human (and dog) race," then he imagines out loud Cain and Abel arguing about getting a dog with Adam and Eve. Bad boy, Cain, sasses his parents while Abel begs "PLEEEEEEASE?" Abigail doesn't want to ask for a dog in a normal way because that is "tedious and grim." The narrator says, "Now, if I were you, I would immediately think, 'Just a moment, Narrator. Do you seriously expect me to believe that a twelve-year-old child would use the words 'tedious' and 'grim' in private conversation with her brother? wouldn't she be much more likely to say something along the lines of 'But, like, John? If we ask Dad the same old way, won't it be, like, boring and sad and stuff?'" This constant poking fun at the writing craft had me howling in the gym as I worked out. My neighbors on the elliptical machines quirked their brows at my sporadic outbursts. Between my plugged ears and piston pumping legs, I bet my laugh was much too boisterous. What do you expect from a Midwestern gal? I was having fun in my make-believe world. What's that? Oh, all right. I'll MOVE ON. I was just having a bit of a chit chat with you. I thought we could get to know each other.

When the Templeton's absent-minded professor-of-a-father moves the family to a different university, the twins get kidnapped by the idiotic villain, Dean D. Dean, AKA Tweedle Dee; aided by his equally idiotic twin brother, Dan D. Dean, AKA Tweedle Dum (my aliases). I love that Dean turns to crime because the professor gave him an F in class. He's even the moustache-twirling "Mwuh-ha-ha" stereotypical character, but because the narrator points it out, I found it funny. Dean's biggest problem is he accuses the Professor of stealing his idea to build a Personal-One-Man Helicopter.  The notion that an idea can be stolen is so ludicrous that its humorous and on a metafictional level points to the fact that many ideas are reused in children's literature. Weiner's presentation is what works. At least for me. I do have an odd sense of humor. While structure and plot are the building blocks of craft, it is the author's language and voice that makes this story rise on its own.

The parody of the slapstick villains and doofy adults is a familiar trope in children's literature where the adults are idiots and the young protagonists solve the story's problem because they are smarter and wiser. (Do you know the meaning of trope? "How very disappointing. And yet I know exactly what it means. Isn't that fascinating?" It means an overused theme or device.) Here Abigail and John not only unkidnap themselves, they save Dad in the process. They are helped by their ridiculous dog , Cassie a hyper fox terrier, that "runs and spins and wags its little tail like a metronome that has lost its mind. When you bring out the leash to take it for a walk and you tell it to "Sit!," it proceeds to leap straight up into the air, like a dolphin in a SeaWorld show, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over until you finally give up and say, 'Oh for goodness' sake,' and you just hold it down and clip on its leash. You may do this four thousand times over the course of five years and it will never, ever sit." Are you laughing? No? Then I suggest you read the SERIOUS book, "Bomb: The Race to Build --and Steal-- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon." Do you get the idea of what this book is like with an in-your-face narrator? Good. "LET'S MOVE ON."

Reading Level 4.7
4 Smileys

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