by Howard Whitehouse (Illus. by Bill Slavin)
First sentence: “The July snow was blowing sideways across the frozen plain toward the village.”
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Review copy sent to me by the author
Because I am not a 10-year-old boy, nor have I ever had a 10-year-old boy (or am likely to), I have completely missed out on the whole sub-genre of 10-year-old-boy books. You know them: Captain Underpants and the like. As a result, I’m not that versed in the world of fart and poop jokes. (Probably a good thing…) This book falls into that category (though it’s pretty light on the fart and poop jokes), and much to my surprise (or not, since I’ve loved other books by Howard Whitehouse) I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We follow the (mis)adventures of one Bogbrush (the Barbarian), who’s off to become a Hero. After a quick stop at the Temple of the Great Belch in order to become a Certified Barbarian, he sets off in search of a Quest. He bumps into Diphtheria and Sneaky, who are off to see if they can remove the Great Axe from the Stone and become the true king of Scrofula. Sounds like an adventure Bogbrush — who’s not too bright — can handle. Of course, they will run into a few other obstacles before they get to the Big City, and while things don’t really turn out happily-ever-after, they don’t turn out too badly either.
But, obviously, this book isn’t about the plot. It’s about the gags, the gimmicks, and Whitehouse (with able — and ample — assistance from Slavin’s illustrations) gives us that in abundance. My personal favorite was the parenthetical comments under the chapter headings; the author uses hands and toes to count up from one to twenty (well, chapter 9 reads, “This would be both hands raised if I had lost a finger like Uncle Bob who had that unfortunate accident with the bacon slicer.”); after twenty they become insanely hilarious, counting all over the map (21 gets used a few times, an Chapter 9 makes a reappearance). I found myself looking forward to a new chapter, just so I could see what was going to happen next in the parenthetical comments.
Additionally, the author gives us an “education”, with sidebars in every chapter explaining definitions of words and customs, as well as general “things to know”. And, since this is a humor book, they are (of course) only mostly serious.
Word of the Day: invoke — to call upon a god, as in “O great God of Homework, make that which I did on the bus this morning suffice for a passing grade.”
Vocabulary to Learn: Brigands, outlaws, footpads, and bandits are the same thing — groups of unpleasant criminals who hide in the wilds and jump out on honest passersby. And not just to say “Boo!” either.
It’s not deep, it’s not even a particularly compelling story, and it kind of just runs out of steam at the end. But it’s 10-year-old boy funny, and that’s really all that matters.