Friday, May 4, 2018

Bug Blonsky and his very long list of don'ts by E. S. Redmond

Bug's real name is Benjamin, but everyone calls him Bug. His mom says it's because he's super wiggly, but his sister says it's because he's super annoying! Bug think that sounds kind of cool - a superhero with the power to annoy! Either way, Bug ends up spending a lot of time thinking in the quiet chair about his choices, so he's decided to write himself a list of don'ts, to keep out of trouble.

Bug's list of don'ts include things like not playing video games before school, thus making him late, having to wear his milk-soaked socks (previous don't) and sit next to Abner, the goody-goody kid. Don't talk to a friend when you're supposed to be listening, because you'll have to sit next to the girl with a crush on you. Don't tell the older boy that your sister has a crush on him. Don't make fun of your teacher. Don't retaliate when kids make fun of you.

The book is heavily illustrated in color, showing Bug's lively inner life and the disastrous consequences of his don'ts. The girl with a crush on him, Peggy Pinkerton, is shown as a pudgy girl with a pig-like face and Bug's don'ts include not telling the mean kid to stop calling her names - because she hugs him, the kids laugh, and then he stamps on her foot and gets in trouble. Bug imagines all the places he could eat breakfast instead of the table (hence the milk-soaked socks), all the awful smells in the world when he takes off his milk-soaked socks (and gets laughed at when the kids see his Timmy Tow Truck underwear), and a list of the thoughts that should have stayed in his head, like telling his grandma the curse word he learned, pointing out his sister's pimple, or telling his mom that her jeans would make a great tent.

Will kids find this funny? Probably. It's humorously written and kids who enjoy Captain Underpants and would like to read Wimpy Kid but aren't old enough will devour it. Bug is a second grader and very relatable with his tactlessness, inattention, and the disasters he falls into. The characters are almost all white, with the exception of a few glimpses of Bug's black friend, Louie. The adult women are shown with grotesquely wide hips and saggy chests and none of them see the humor in Bug's antics. The humor level is about on par with Andy Griffiths or Captain Underpants including jokes about farts, Uranus, etc.

Verdict: Some of Bug's antics were funny; he obviously has trouble focusing and gets into lots of trouble. However, a lot of his antics (and those of the other kids) are just mean. Where are the adults when the kids are teasing each other into tears or physical retaliation? Why don't Bug's parents give his sister a lock on her door, since he's quite willing to walk into her room, read her private diary, and talk about it to all and sundry? I've met some kids with a complete lack of filter like Bug has and find the best way to deal with it is to shut it down with a calm "Asking personal questions or making comments is rude. Don't do that again." Instead, Bug's teacher, clearly a veteran, gets embarrassed and angry. Bug's tactlessness is played for laughs and there's no evidence that anyone is trying to help him to improve, other than plopping him in a time-out chair to "think about his choices." Redmond's depiction of Bug's plump classmate is distasteful as well. There are plenty of other funny books out there that aren't as mean-spirited as this one. I'd also like to see a change in the "white boy with attention issues driving everyone crazy is funny" trope.

ISBN: 9780763689353; Published 2018 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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