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Friday, July 29, 2016

The Worst ... Ever... MG Books by Dave Barry

The Worst Class Trip Ever (#1)
The Worst Night Ever (#2)
by Dave Barry
illustrated by Jon Cannell
published by Disney-Hyperion

On and off, famous authors of adult fiction have written children's books. Crows of Pear Blossom  by Aldous Huxley is a short sweet story made into a lovely picture book illustrated by Sophie Blackall. There's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie, Up in the Tree by Margaret Atwood, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot...

Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series is brilliant: no patronizing, no condescension, no preaching, no lecture, and no softened 2D flat characters either. But then again, just because the protagonist is a 9 year old when the series starts out, doesn't mean it is necessarily for nine year old readers.

However, of late, there seems to be an explosion of middle grade fiction by best-selling authors of the adult crime/mystery genre - like, the I Funny Series by James Patterson  and Theodore Boone series by John Grisham -- and they seem to receive mixed reviews overall.

Dave Barry's columns were quite an inspiration in my younger days -- besides being side-splittingly funny at times, they brought a unique perspective to everyday things. So, when I stumbled upon Barry's middle grade fiction, I had to bring them home and see if they still held the same magic.

Wyatt Palmer, an eighth grader at Culver Middle School in Miami, is a likable protagonist. His heart is in the right place and he strives to steer clear of trouble. But, as is the case with such heroes, trouble finds them, spurring them into action, leading to a series of (un)fortunate events that end amicably enough but leave a wreck in their wake.

The Worst Class Trip Ever has this ridiculously exaggerated plot where Wyatt's best friend Matt Diaz is kidnapped, possibly by terrorists, while on their class trip to Washington D.C. Wyatt and Suzana, the girl he is crazy about, have to rescue Matt by handing over a deadly device to the terrorists. As over-the-top as it sounds, it is not meant to be taken seriously thanks to the easy-going comic tone and insane fast-paced happenings that lead to Wyatt breaking the collar bone of the President of the United States, and yet managing to come out smelling of roses in the end.

The Worst Night Ever happens a short while after the ill-fated class trip that inadvertently made Wyatt a hero. He is now  a freshman at Coral Cove High School, with a despotic principal and a pair of over-sized bullies by the name of Bevin Brothers. The trouble again starts with Matt who brings his ferret to school even though it is strictly against the rules. Of course, without rule-breakers and bumbling incompetents, there wouldn't be much of a story to tell. Anyway, Bevin brothers appropriate Matt's ferret and take it to their home. Wyatt hatches a plan to steal it back from them and incidentally uncovers a secret  involving the Bevin family in illegal exotic-pet trade.

Written in Wyatt's voice, readers get to see his point of view and get to know his friends as he sees them; and at times, Wyatt speaks directly to the reader which takes us readers inside the story as we commiserate with his predicament.

The 11 year old seemed to enjoy the book, especially because it was rather over the top and, at the same time, quite entertaining and funny.

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