Anderson, M.T. Whales on Stilts (M. T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales). Sandpiper, 2006. ISBN 978-0152053949. 224 pp. $6.99
At first, I couldn’t decide if this book is brilliantly satiric, or abysmally bad. Are the ads and made-up brand names another slam at our consumeristic way of life from Anderson, or is he spoofing himself? Either way, this tongue in cheek tale will find it’s audience.
In the vein of Lemony Snicket, Anderson introduces three buddies out to save the world from delusional but well-meaning adults who can’t recognize an evil world-domination plot when it smacks them across the forehead. Authorial intrusions and lapsing into stream of consciousness abound, without the dreary woe of A Series of Unfortunate Events as ordinary Lily, often overshadowed by her two best friends, gets to shine when she discovers that the company her dad works for is a cover-up for a group of mad scientists assisting an pod of angry aquatic mammals.
With a nod to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, locations are cliché (an abandoned warehouse, a deserted cove), and boy wonder Jasper Dash uses quaint expressions such as “Great Scott!” Techno-gadgets coupled with slapstick comedy and absurd footnotes make this hyperbolic tale completely silly, but the underlying plot structure and character development support the goofiness well enough for us to just suspend our disbelief and hang on for the ride. And occasionally, such unexpected gems of truth erupt amidst the silliness, such as Grandma’s words of wisdom to Lily: “You know how, when you’re remembering, you put beautiful things everywhere? You spread them out, and they fill the whole memory. Even if there weren’t fireflies every night we played there, those were firefly times, Lily.”
Anderson, M.T. Me, All Alone, at the End of the World. illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Candlewick, 2005. ISBN 978-0763615864 40pp. $16.99.
Civilization and it’s din invade the sanctuary of a barefoot boy and his mule who hunted fossils and listened to the wind before a Inn (orchestrated by one Mr. Shimmer, Professor Visionary) blossoms on his cliff at the End of the World.
At first, the crowds come for the sunsets and pines that the boy so loves, but soon the lights and noise make viewing nature–or hearing oneself think–impossible. The Inn escalates into a carnival style resort (complete with barker) in full swing 24/7/365. The invasive lifestyle is poisonous, causing dry heaves and sleepless nights. When our hero takes a step back from it all to evaluate the chaos, “There’s no time for thinking!” cries Shimmer to his audience. It’s a pivotal moment for the protagonist to decide if his life should be lived solely for “fun without end” and waiting for the next big thing.
Several weighty messages are deftly and subtlety packaged into this lovely picture book: trust your instincts, relish solitude, think, enjoy nature, spurn consumerism. Anderson’s clever turns of phrase (“long-leggedy,” “growl in voices like plumbing”) dance rhythmically across each page.
Starting with pine green endpapers, Hawkes deliberately juxtaposes organic hues at the beginning and end of the story with a jarring palette of discordant colors for the middle. Charming black and white illustrations give a static, old-fashioned tone to every other page of text, while the accompanying full page, full color illustrations in each spread are more fanciful and have a modern and dynamic feel.
Each choice by the creators is deliberate, and this entertaining story comes satisfyingly full circle in image and text without the heavy-handed feeling of a moral. Highly recommended.
Anderson, M.T. Burger Wuss. Gardener, 2005. ISBN 978-1844282890 220 pp. $
M.T. Anderson serves up a McHit in this hysterically funny satire of the teen problem novel, revenge, and employment in the fast food industry. Mr. Nice Guy Anthony, age 16, has done everything right and been a perfect gentleman with his girlfriend Diana–why does he find her horizontal with her co-worker Turner from the burger joint O’Dermott’s? Diana quits her job when the scumbag wants nothing to do with her, and Anthony takes her job in a plan to exact revenge on Turner. Wuss no more, Anthony gets into fights, steals a promotional condiment dump, and creates a bona-fide fiasco involving Burger Queen, O’Dermott’s rival restaurant. Will Mr. Nice finish last in this tale?
This is a laugh-out-loud funny book. Anderson has a keen ear for teen dialogue, and the words sound genuine. Quirky yet real characters include the nosy but well-meaning neighbor who eavesdrops on her cell phone, Anthony’s best friends Rick and Jenn, who are sickeningly sweetly in love, and anarchist co-worker Shunt, determined to destroy O’Dermott’s from within.
The in-your face cover and strong title will make this book leap off the shelves into reader’s hands; the humor and honesty will keep the reader engaged to the end. Highly recommended for fans of Rob Thomas and Ron Koertge.