23 April 2013, Aladdin
Matt Worfle and Larry "Craz" Crazinski have their problems. Matt's workaholic father has moved out, and his overworked single mom is having trouble controlling Matt's older brother, Ricky. Craz's family of five children leaves him with cold showers and a lot of babysitting. The two both love to draw and create cartoons, but can't get past the editor, Skip Turkle, of the school newspaper, who prefers the insipid strips drawn by Diesel. When the two decide to invest in some quality drawing equipment for Matt, they happen upon a weird web site run by Boyd T. Boone. It causes Matt's computer to crash just as they are ordering the new pen and ink for the low, low price of $10, so Matt is very surprised when the supplies arrive at his door. The first picture the boys create is of them drawing their way to fame and fortune, and after they make a copy of it, the picture comes true. Boyd T. Boone appears as they are spending their money, and guides them in their endeavors. Soon the boys are wreaking all kind of havoc in their attempts to make better lives for themselves-- Matt arranges a date with his crush, Cindy, which ends poorly; Craz inadvertently makes his brothers and sisters disappear; Matt has his father move back home; and the boys send their language arts teacher to an island so they have extra time to turn in a term paper.... Treasure Island, where she has to live among the pirates she's been reading about for the class! When the boys start to realize that changing their lives hasn't ended well, they also realize that they have run out of ink, and have to find a way to restore things.
Strengths: This book, like the Charlie Joe Jackson series, looks like it's a notebook novel, but really has much more meat on its cartoon bones. This is definitely a fantasy book; the pen is left in the newspaper office and Diesel turns the student council candidates into weird space aliens! Like Milo, Sticky Notes, and Brain Freeze, this addresses deeper issues of middle grade existence in a funny way. This moved quickly, had lots of action, covered items of real concern that middle graders have about their families and school, and was very enjoyable to read. Bravo, Mr. Silberberg.
Weaknesses: Flirting with "too weird" on the names but didn't quite step over the line into annoying. Unflattering depiction of language arts teacher, but necessary to the plot. Nothing horrible objectionable. Will look forward to having this to recommend in the fall!
The Kirkus Review included this comment: "It’s like “The Monkey’s Paw” produced by Sid and Marty Krofft." I thought it was a compliment because I ADORE Lidsville. And H.R. Pufnstuf.
30 April 2013, Henry Holt and Company
Derek and Matt meet a new student, Umberto, who is in a wheelchair. Derek immediately finds himself at odds with Umberto, who steals his cartoon ideas and gives him a really hard time. Derek, whose mother is a vet, is raising an assistance monkey, and thinks that Umberto could benefit from one, but doesn’t understand why Umberto hates him so much. Derek puts together a cartoon club at school, and several of his friends come, but so does Umberto. Everyone else likes him, and the teachers always take his side. Eventually, the two are able to work together in a critical situation, and are able to comes to terms with each other.
Strengths: I really liked this one. It’s hard to describe how cleverly Umberto is portrayed as a bully, but it’s quite brilliant. I even like how the situation is handled by Derek’s parents. Also, Derek’s dog DOES NOT die. Whew. Nothing makes me cry like a dog dying in a book. The first two books in this series are popular, and I think this one may be the most intriguing of the lot!
Weaknesses: The critical situation is a little hackneyed, but still well done. Same could be said of how the two become friends, but I think it is realistic that they might have gotten off on the wrong foot, but can be friends because they are really very similar.