Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So My Point in All This is That if You Have a Kid who Doesn't Read, but Watches a Lot of Cartoons, You Might Want to Give Him or Her a Copy of Michael Buckley's NERDS.

I know you're probably thinking that when I'm not selling books, I'm reading, and you'd be correct. But there's more to life than reading, right? In my dreams, I'd have very useful hobbies, like gardening and making furniture. Or maybe a suitable intellectual pursuit, like...well, I can't think of one. Perhaps mapmaking or forensics.

But sadly, the truth is that I just watch a lot of television. And it's worse than that--no critically acclaimed scripted shows for me. When I can't sleep at night, there's no greater solace than a block of Phineas and Ferb cartoons on the Disney Channel.

Yes, I'm still as obsessed as the last time I wrote about this. Not only has the show made dimmed my last juvenile cartoon obession (The Fairly Oddparents) but I'd rather watch the boys than any currently airing adult cartoon. I love the way the two plotlines (Phineas and Ferb's project and their sister Candace's attempt to bust them and Professor Heinz Doofenschmirtz's latest evil scheme to take over the tri-state area if he is not busted by Agent Perry the Platypus, whose secret identity, by the way, is Phineas and Ferb's pet) intersect every which way. I love the snappy banter. I love the songs. It's so clever and silly. Sigh. Here's a link to Chill Out, which turns two episodes, including "S'winter", into a chapter book.

So it's no wonder that my taste in books for kids tends towards the silly. I shy away from the worldly older stuff; the books I wind up gravitating to is the middle grade titles, where the humor tends to the silly. I don't mind a few jokes going over the heads of the intended readers, a little gift to the parents who might be reading along. In a way, it all harkens back to my favorite children's book author, which I think you all should know is Edward Eager.

So right now, my series of the moment has been NERDS, which of course stands for National Espionage Rescue and Defense Society. It's about five misfit kids at Nathan Hale Elementary School, just outside of Washington DC. By day, they are picked on for their weaknesses--one has allergies, another asthma, a third is a tubby kid with a taste for paste. Secretly they are agents of the government, and their weaknesses have been enhanced with nanotechnology to become strengths. Duncan the paste eater, for example, becomes Gluestick, who shoots out a super stickiness that lets him walk up walls and the like.

And no surprise, Michael Buckley has helped develop shows for Nickelodeon and The Cartoon Network. And according to the books, he is also a former NERD, code name Beanpole.

When I read the first volume, I thought the whole series would focus on Jackson Jones, the newest member. He was a bully who turned into the tormented when he got some big ugly braces, hence, code name Braceface. He's brought in to help foil Dr. Jigsaw, whose evil scheme is to put the world's continents together. I can't remember why, as this was two books ago. Not all the kids are comfortable with a former bully being one of the team, but as in all the volumes, there's a lesson to be learned. Hey, you can't win a Colorado Children's Book Award and be nominated for similar awards in Florida and Iowa if you don't have a lesson, can you?

But it turns out that each volume offers a moment in the sun for a different NERD. M is for Mama's Boy, in which the gang must confront a ray gun that infects nanotechnology with computer viruses and effectively hypnotizes the machinery, focused on Duncan Dewey. Dewey, code name Gluestick, is the only NERD whose parents know of his secret identity, and his father, a auto mechanic, is not particularly happy about the situation. Neither is his sister, who is irritated by having to move to Arlington for Dewey's special needs.

Then in The Cheerleaders of Doom, Matilda Choi, code name Wheezer, gets the spotlight. In this adventure, Matilda has to infiltrate cheerleading camp to find a device that opens up parallel universes. The problem? The universes are being plundered for things like plastic surgery, and also world domination. Another problem is that Matilda is a tomboy and thinks cheerleaders are stupid.

I'm glad to say that all three volumes are fast-paced and funny, but also smart, with some ideas for a kid to contemplate. In other words, they are also teacher friendly. Now my only problem is that I have almost a year until volume four. That's ok, I still have eight volumes of the Sisters Grimm series to read, and that one is even more popular, so I figure I have a nice future of fun reading ahead. Plus volume 8, The Council of Mirrors, comes out next May.

Hey, if you have your own favorite silly series (or stand-alone) for kids, why not recommend it in a comment?

Daniel Goldin, code name Snortysneeze

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