Monday, September 28, 2015

The Terrible Two (The Terrible Two #1) by Mac Barnett, Jory John, Kevin Cornell (Illustrations)

When we moved to northern Minnesota the high school mascot was a potato spud. The students would try and modify it to "potato studs," but it didn't help when the mascot, that looked like Mr. Potato Head's twin, was leading cheers at sporting events. Darn funny, though. Miles Murphy is moving to the town Yawnee Valley where they revere their cows. The school mascot is a cow. The mayor is a cow. The founding father statue in the park is a cow. Dairy farms surround the town of 10,000 and the night air is not full of the sounds of crickets but cows mooing. The school marquee reads, "Welcome back bovines," and the principal has written a fact book about cows. Miles is pretty depressed until he goes to the first day of school and sees the ultimate prank, someone blocked the front doors of school with the principal's car. The only problem is that Miles was the Prankster at his previous school and there can't be two King pranksters in the same school. A prank war ensues where Miles learns he just might not be the James Bond of pranksters and friendships have more meaning than constant jokes. The slapstick humor and message of when taking jokes too far hurts others make this a keeper.

Miles Murphy needs to make a statement and top this principal-car-blocking-entrance prank. He invents a supercool fictitious student that is having a birthday party and invites 12 students who invite everyone else in the class. Miles plans to show up and surprise everyone with his prank by revealing it is him and taking off with the gifts. However, he gets upstaged by his James Bond prankster rival, who has revealed himself to Miles by this time in the story. Miles doesn't get some of the fundamentals in pranking as his rival points out. First, Miles wants people to know he did the prank. That's a no-no. Mile's desire for self-glory is one of the downfalls, as well as, he is supposed to prank a person that deserves it (the goat). Instead Miles is being mean to kids and turning them off. The James Bond prankster tries to teach Miles that showing up to a party and then running off with all the presents is not going to win him friends. Sometimes kids think they are being funny when they are really being mean.

The mastermind prankster really wants to team up with Miles but he messes up by insulting Miles and being condescending. These two pranksters have a ways to go with setting aside their egos if they are to be friends, but they manage it in the end because as they admire different qualities in each other. Although Miles gets somewhat run-over in the process. He has to have a prank war that the reader knows he will lose. It is a spectacular loss though with some small recoveries that keep Miles from being completely humiliated and showing his own unusual talents. Miles is just outgunned in the planning area. He doesn't think through his pranks as well as his rival.

The banter is funny along with humorous illustrations. "Mom, what if I skipped this grade?" Miles asks. He says he'll spend a year working on projects. They go back and forth until she says he is not having a project year. "Maybe I could take this year to travel. You know I've been wanting to see the world! They say traveling is the best education." She responds in the negative. "Maybe I could take a sabbatical. Do you know what a sabbatical is, Mom?" /"Yes. Do you know what a sabbatical is?" /"It's basically a project year." /"No," she says as they pull up to the school.

Literature is full of archetypes that give text meaning and universal appeal. They are recognizable character types like the hero, trickster, mother, mentor, and more. Sometimes the archetype gives me comfort and other times it annoys me with its stereotyped character. Here, the authors setup from page one that this is an absurd tale so the archetypes fit in with the cartoonish feel of the entire story from the illustrations to the narrative. The cows are treated like famous citizens and the long list of how students try to fit in at school by adopting a persona that makes them stand out in the crowd fits right in with archetypes. This story is silly, dumb, and plain ole fun.

The principal, bully, and do-gooder are some archetypes found in this story. There is also the trickster whose identity is concealed for most of the story. Principal Barkin is a stitch. He wants power. He wears a red tie. He practices his power speeches. He eats "Breakfast of Barkins". He's the perfect "goat" for a prankster. He can't figure out how to move his car that is blocking the school entrance. He doesn't even recognize prank phone calls when he receives them while writing his power speech. He blames kids and punishes them based on circumstantial evidence, and he's raising a son to value power above all else. So often I find the bad principal archetype stereotyped and boring, but here it worked for me because the book is more like a cartoon with its slapstick humor.

The James Bond prankster is pretty easy to figure out early on in the story. The twists in pranks and funny ending bring the story full circle with the cows getting the last laugh. This reminds me of the book, "Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School," by Kim Baker except with a main character like Timmy Failure. I wonder if Mac Barnett and Jory John dreamed this plot up while milking a cow. Read this with a bowl of your Breakfast of Champions and snort-laugh milk through your nose while the cows moo in laughter outside your window.

4 Smileys

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