Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sizzling Scieszka

It came as no surprise to those of us familiar with the work of Jon Scieszka that he would be awarded the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature medal given by Librarian of Congress James H. Billlington on October 11, 2008.

 Prior to and after serving  this two year term he wrote the Time Wrap Trio series which currently has its own TV show, the newer Trucktown books and a dozen picture books on all things weird and wonderful.   One of many done in collaboration with Lane Smith is the Caldecott Award Honor book , The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. 

Jon Scieskza has been a true champion for the cause of promoting not just reading but specifically reading for boys and young men.  At Guys Read he has numerous lists of time-tested books for guys, he has started a library of anthologies called Guys Read; the first is Guys Read-Funny Business which had me rolling with laughter.  In the Guys Read blog yesterday he announced that the second book, Guys Read-Thriller is being released tomorrow.  He offers a separate page for encouraging guys to start a reading group offering print-outs and advice.

Nearly a year ago his newest series began with Spaceheadz,  Book #1.  In describing this newest tome two words come to mind--wild and wacky; well maybe three--hilarious.   Michael K. is the new kid at school and his first day experiences in Mrs. Halley's fifth grade class at P.S. 858 are out of this world---literally.

Paired with two new kids who give a whole different meaning to the word strange, Michael slowly becomes convinced that they are truly aliens from an unknown planet and their mission leader is the class hamster, Major Fluffy. This convincing comes in the form of Bob and Jennifer's speech which is strictly in commercial "sloganese" or other well known short phrases from Big Time Wrestling.
The boy nodded back.  "JUST DO IT."  The girl drew on her Star Wars lunch box: SPHDZ . This was getting beyond weird.  "Michael K., I'M LOVING IT!" said the boy.  "We need your help.  You must become a SPHDZ.  Save your world.  I am Bob."  "Jennifer," said the girl in that deep, echoing voice.  Michael K. watched Jennifer crunch the last of his Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2...Jennifer burped up the eraser from Michael K.'s only pencil.  She spit it out.  "SPHDZ---GET RRRREADY TO RRRRRUMBLE," said Jennifer.  Let's face it--who else would talk like that but two aliens?!

Then, too, there are the conversations between the duo and Major Fluffy who speaks, Week eek eeeekwee weee weee eeee ee eeeek eeeek.  Pair this with the inept surveillance of Agent Umber of the Anti-Alien Agency (AAA) complete with a Picklephone (R), a beat-up old white van and a multitude of surefire disguises that continually backfire and you have a day that gets nuttier and nuttier. 

Their mission on planet Earth is to get three point one four million and one Earth persons to become SPHDZ.  If this mission is not accomplished Earth will be turned off.   Using discarded trash as their technology,  Bob, Jennifer and Major Fluffy design a web site to lure Earthlings to become SPHDZ.  Michael K. has a decision to make, save his sanity or save the world.

Right before Christmas, Spaceheadz, Book #2 hit the scene funnier, if that's possible, than the first book.  Michael K., Jennifer, Bob and Major Fluffy have returned with absurd antics that define their determination to make this mission not impossible.  They are joined by techno geek students, TJ and Venus who have been observing the events with a skeptical eye. The characters of School Nurse Dominique and Agent Magenta become more fully fleshed-out.  Dad K. and the Ad Factory NY offices add another piece to the ever-growing puzzle.  Readers discover that Mom K. is an employee of the ZIA.  But with each revelation more questions rise to the surface which just adds to the increasingly fast-paced action.

Toss in a class project that matches this group of six with the kindergarten students practicing for their version of Little Red Riding Hood, a day of bad food in the school cafeteria and an agent lurking in the sewers of Brooklyn and readers are in for one madcap adventure with a mighty suspicious ending. 

Throughout both books black and white illustrations from the mind of Shane Prigmore extend the downright goofy dialogue and events.  It is like seeing the visuals created in your imagination from the text of Scieszka appear right before your eyes on the printed page.  Sprinkled among the chapters of both books are one page explanations of terms that pop-up in the course of the story, TV and radio, waves, interference/amplification, camouflage and mimicry, to name a few.

Additional appeal for this series comes with five web sites, SPHDZ #1 Website, Mrs. Halley's Comets, Anti-Alien Agency, I'm Sure Glad That Didn't Happen and The Ad Factory.  By going to the Simon and Schuster link here those can be accessed.  Number three in the series comes out this fall and I count myself among those readers who can't wait.

To say that my fan factor for Jon Scieszka is high is an understatement.  Oh, and did I mention, he was born and raised right here in Michigan.  Enough said.

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