Tag Archives: tall tale

My Life as Alien Monster Bait

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

It’s every kid’s dream, right? Get chosen to be in a movie, and instantly transform from all-school reject to everyone’s new best friend? When uber-klutz Wally McDoogle manages to land a role in an up-and-coming monster movie, his life certainly undergoes an extreme transformation. About the only person who doesn’t treat him differently is his best friend Opera . . . only Wally’s pretty sure he’s too cool to be seen around Opera anymore. The nerdiness may be catching, after all. But when the filming goes haywire (as it is so prone to do around him), Wally finds out just how valuable true friendship is–and how fleeting  those “friendships” based on fame.

As with the first book in this series (My Life as a Smashed Burrito with Extra Hot Sauce), My Life as Alien Monster Bait is a great Christian middle-grade story that manages to teach important lessons without being stuffy or “preachy” in the slightest. Between Wally’s escapades, the offbeat stories he writes, and the quirky first-person writing, you’ve got a story that’s absurdly funny (even to an adult, but even more so as a kid). But in the midst of the humor, you’ve got some excellent lessons on pride, true friendship, and that more challenging concept to nail down–not treating people differently just because they have more fame or money or coolness points or whatever. Myers brings us a blatantly Christian story with solid life lessons . . . that’s also immensely enjoyable and laugh-inducing. Definitely recommended.

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Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario

Author: Daniel Pinkwater

My rating: 4 of 5

Getting left with his Uncle Mel for 6 weeks over summer break wasn’t too bad–other than trying to survive solely on junk food. But then, when Uncle Mel got dragged away to Rochester for a 2-week training session for his work, Eugene got dragged along as well and found himself going mad with boredom . . . that is, until he saw a documentary movie with his uncle about a man searching Lake Ontario for a monster called the Yobgorgle. That’s when Eugene has the bright idea to get in touch with this guy, Ambrose McFwain, who (let’s face it) is rather mad but also quite interesting, and who hires Eugene as his assistant on the spot. The summer’s about to get a lot less boring and a lot more wacky.

Daniel Pinkwater is one of those underappreciated authors who can take the absolute zaniest things and make something absolutely captivating out of them. Yobgorgle is a tall tale about a kid and an inept monster hunter that gets taller the longer it goes. All told in first-person from a twelve-year-old’s point of view. And Pinkwater nails the twelve-year-old part impressively; there’s a dry, cutting observation to the way Eugene views the world, with none of the filters and social niceties that adults use in their way of expressing themselves. No, Eugene tells it like he sees it, for better or for worse. And the situations he finds himself in just keep getting more and more spectacularly strange as he goes. It’s all very funny and engaging. It’s also interesting to read this book today; it was originally published in 1979, and it’s telling. There are so many little cultural snippets that loudly proclaim that this is a story of a bygone era . . . the clothing, the emphasis on vending machines (Uncle Mel’s job is working on them), but perhaps most of all the way a twelve-year-old kid is able to just roam around Rochester, New York on his own. It’s an interesting peek into the past, although with the specifics of this book, it’s a past that never was. Still, another zany, all-ages-friendly offering from an amazing author; Yobgorgle definitely goes on my recommended list.

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My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Wally knew his summer was going downhill as soon as his dad started throwing around phrases like “great outdoors” and “think manly thoughts.” He just didn’t know how bad it was going to get until he stumbled onto the bus to “Camp Whacko” (as it was fondly nicknamed) and into the bad graces of notorious bully Gary the Gorilla. Somehow (yes, his ego tends to be his undoing), his fellow campers convince Wally to stand up to Gary in an all-out camp war–pranks in the middle of the night, traps on the trail, that sort of thing. Only, all of that doesn’t go very well with all this teaching on wisdom that Wally’s been hearing from his camp leader, and at some point he’s going to have to make a defining choice.

I discovered Bill Myers’ Wally McDoogle books back when I was still in, like, middle school. They were fabulous then, and they continue to be a joy even today. They manage to be distinctively Christian middle-grade fiction, with solid teaching (in this volume, focusing on making wise choices, choosing good friends, and even loving your enemy), while still being relatable and impossibly funny. Wally is just so utterly clumsy and has such an over-the-top sarcastic sense of humor (and yes, everything’s told from a first-person perspective, which in this story definitely works), that you can’t help but laugh. The collection of circumstances as a whole is so improbable as to be basically implausible. And yet, the attitudes Wally has, the bad choices he makes, and the hard decisions he’s faced with, are completely realistic–they’re the sort of challenges that real people are faced with on a everyday basis. Which (besides the gut-wrenching laughter) is what makes this story so great; it equips kids to face real choices and helps them think through things so that they are more ready when they’re faced with this stuff in real life. Definitely recommended.

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Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Illustrator: Steven Lenton

My rating: 5 of 5

Prez used to live with his grandfather, a crusty old sailor who took care of Prez and told stories about traveling the world. Then, as his grandfather’s memory got worse and worse, Prez took care of his grandfather. That is, until they came and took Prez’s grandfather away and put Prez in the Temporary. Now Prez is staying with the Blythe family on their farm for the summer–trying to help where he can, but not saying a thing. Enter Sputnik: a weird little alien wearing goggles and a kilt who always carries a doorbell with him. He tells Prez that 1) he’s here to look after Prez and 2) they only have until the end of summer to save the Earth. Yikes. On top of that, Prez can’t figure out why everyone just accepts Sputnik’s appearance out of nowhere and is so thrilled when he shakes their hand . . . oh, wait, to everyone else, Sputnik looks like a dog. This is going to be an interesting summer.

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is just so utterly zany that I can’t possibly do it justice. It has all the fabulous writing of Boyce’s other books, which I just love. The characters are heartwarming and funny. I really liked the Blythes; they manage to be good people with kind intentions without being an overkill unbelievable foster family. I absolutely adore the way Boyce writes family conversations; it’s like this cloud of sentences competing on the page! And there’s Prez, sitting quietly in the midst of it all. Sputnik’s character is fabulously absurd–he adds quite the wild-card effect to basically everything. Gravity tides, real working light sabers, reverse grenades that put things back together . . . physics does not work normally around this strange being. But I love the way he sees the world, the way things we typically think of as amazing are unimpressive to him, but random ordinary things are important enough to be worth putting on his list to save the planet. He has a way of making you re-think priorities. Basically, Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is a fabulous, funny middle-grade story, and I would highly recommend it.

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The Astounding Broccoli Boy

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 4 of 5

Rory Rooney is all about being ready for everything, but the truth is there are some things you just can’t prepare for. Like being bullied by the biggest kid in your class. Or being accused of trying to poison him after he steals your food and has an allergic reaction. Or falling in a river and turning green. Broccoli green. But surprisingly enough, being green is something Rory can deal with. The doctors are baffled, but he’s convinced that his verdancy can only have one diagnosis: super.

I swear, where has this author been my whole life?! I just recently discovered Boyce’s writing when I read Cosmic, and The Astounding Broccoli Boy is another homerun of an absurd middle-grade adventure story. The author does a great job of creating relatable but interesting characters. The situations in which the characters find themselves are absolutely ridiculous–totally the realm of tall tales–yet with enough Truth (the kind that impacts people, not necessarily the kind that is scientifically provable) that the story is still grounded and real to the reader. The author uses the ridiculous, the humorous, and the adventurous events the characters encounter to express something practical and immediate, and I love that. Plus, the story is just fun, full of hijinks and misunderstandings and fun references. I would definitely recommend The Astounding Broccoli Boy for middle-grade readers in particular, but also just in general; it’s good fun.

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Cosmic

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 5 of 5

Liam has always been tall for his age, getting mistaken for being older than he is and being teased by other children for it. Now at the age of twelve, he’s already growing facial hair and being mistaken for an adult. Which is mostly awful. . . . But it does have its advantages at times. Like when he was mistaken for a new teacher at his new school or when he and his classmate Florida would go to the stores with him pretending to be her father. And ever one to push the limits, Liam begins to see just how far he can go with this “adult” thing–never dreaming that doing so would end up with him being stuck in a spaceship with a bunch of kids looking to him to get them safely home.

So, Cosmic was one of those books that blew my expectations completely out of the water. I had never even heard of the author previously (clearly an oversight on my part), and it appeared both from the cover and the description to be a rather average middle-grade story of hijinks and randomness. Well, the middle-grade hijinks and randomness is definitely there, but average this book is not. It uses humor and a tall tale sort of setting to look at what being an adult is really all about–as well as to examine how much the advantages of being an adult are wasted on actual grown-ups who don’t have the sense of fun and irresponsibility to really enjoy them. It also looks at major themes like fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children in a way that is quite touching. But the story never gets bogged down in these themes; rather they are revealed gradually through the improbable and ridiculous circumstances in which Liam and his companions find themselves. It’s very funny–perhaps even more so reading this as an adult, although this is definitely written for a younger audience and is completely appropriate for such, even for a younger elementary grade readership. There’s something of a universality in the midst of absurdity to be found in Cosmic, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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