Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex

Yet another one-color-themed graphic novel about alternate world barbarians in special education, guarding demon toes.


Yep. You know how there's lots of one-color graphic novels for beginning and intermediate readers? Babymouse, Lunch Lady, Squish, Flying Beaver Brothers, etc. Well, this is the latest and it's orange.

And it's about barbarians. "In a world of swords, magic, barbarians, and evil big toes..." (and 95% males apparently), there's one small barbarian, Fangbone. He's determined to one day raise an army and be a great warrior, but until then he's the smallest, puniest kid. So when the Army of Drool approaches, he's the only one who can be spared to take the Big Toe of Drool to another world for safety.

In an effort to blend in, Fangbone joins some kids going into school and finds himself in a class of misfits - it quickly becomes obvious that this is the special education class. Fangbone is befriended by Bill, who has some anger management and attention issues and together they figure out what it really means to be a friend - and to triumph at Beanball, slay evil monsters, and explore different cultures.

As I read this book, half of my mind kept muttering "it's like Captain Underpants and I never liked the whole 'gross humor' genre and it's orange." The rest of my mind couldn't stop laughing. In short, I liked this book in spite of myself.

Fangbone encountering indoor plumbing for the first time "By the gods of Skullbania! This is sorcery!" Bill replies, "Nope. It's plumbing." Bill's mom wants to know what they're doing:
Bill: "We're going to find an army."
Bill's mom: "Sounds like fun. I'll be in the garden."
Fangbone: "May your harvest be rich and generous."

Fighting the ultimate bat monster:
Bill: "Keep it distracted! Hit it! Yell at it! Spit at it!"
Other student: "I'm not allowed to spit"
Fangbone and Bill: "This is war!"

The art is appropriately gross, with rumpled edges and neatly arranged panels. Most of the characters have deadpan faces, which makes it all the funnier when they show sudden shock or surprise - or in Fangbone's case, a mixture of smugness and cunning. The text is all caps, large enough to be readable, but not too easy.

The main "message" is loyalty to friends and that everyone has something to offer. However, it's not emphasized too heavily and despite its fantasy elements the book is actually pretty realistic. Even though Fangbone helps Bill and his friends triumph over the bullies and "normal" kids at Beanball, they all know it's just a temporary victory. The kids mostly roll their eyes at their teacher's platitudes about being special and tolerant - they know perfectly well they're the bottom of the food chain on the playground and pretty much in life. Working together, despite initial reluctance to take risks on the part of the other kids in the class, they can defeat the giant bat monster - but there's still a quiz!

Verdict: The next Captain Underpants, but less likely to get complaints from parents. Buy multiple copies.

ISBN: 9780399255212; Published January 2012 by G. P. Putnam; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library


Michael Rex said...

Hi. Thanks for the nice review. I must admit the first half of it made me a bit nervous, but I'm glad I read the whole thing through. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Jennifer said...

Ha! I'm still giggling thinking about it and the kids are fighting over who gets to check it out next at the library! It's really not what I'd normally enjoy, but it was so funny!