Monday, August 02, 2010

A Whole Nother Story as told by (the One and Only) Dr. Cuthbert Soup


Many times have I been tempted to include in a written message the word “nother” as in “a whole nother issue is involved” or “we still have a whole nother stack of books to move.” So I picked up A Whole Nother Story with admiration for an author who had the courage—or silliness—to publish the word! I was rewarded with a chapter book full of wordplay that would easily pull in a tween with a well-developed sense of humor and at least a passing acquaintance with spy stories (think Get Smart).

All the essential elements of an UNrealistic fiction chapter book are here:
• a fantastic (as in fantasy) premise,
• a carload (literally) of sympathetic protagonists,
• a busload (literally) of off-the-wall supporting actors,
• a truckload (figuratively) of secondary characters “from corporate criminals to top secret government agents to international superspies” (stock players taken to the Nth degree), and
• a plotline that takes us on quite a ride.

The story also keeps us chuckling, since it’s peppered with hilarious asides and words of wisdom between chapters from author/narrator Dr. Cuthbert Soup, head of the National Center for Unsolicited Advice in Cleveland.

The advice is more or less relevant to the events of the story, in which inventor Ethan Cheeseman and his three children are running for their lives with an almost-finished invention in the way-back of their white station wagon. (“Way-back” is a useful word like “nother, “ but was invented by my family.) Anyway, this invention in the way-back is so amazing that everyone wants it. However, the machine can be used for “either immense good or unspeakable evil.” Thus, every time the bad guys get close to finding it, Mr. Cheeseman uproots his family and flees. For their own safety, the children must disguise their identities, so they cleverly change their names every time they move to a new town. Fortunately, this is not as confusing as a reader might expect, since we get to know the children’s personalities, proclivities, and sibling rivalries as we learn their new names.

The family is accompanied by Pinky the terrier, who has lost all her hair, but gained the useful psychic ability to tell when danger lurks nearby. Pinky’s warnings are especially helpful in that the Cheesemans encounter rather--what shall we say?--quirky characters on their travels. For example, the members of the traveling carnival include a high-wire walker with no sense of balance and a strong man who can’t lift anything. This might seem suspicious, but Pinky doesn’t growl when they show up, so the Cheesemans get acquainted with them, eventually finding them to be helpful allies. Finally, after all the surprising adventures and folks the Cheesemans meet on their journey, there’s a whole NOTHER shocker involving a secret code and an ancient curse (of course) to bring it all together at the end.

A Whole Nother Story is a great choice for those who like funny chapter books. This one features more boys than girls--not to mention poetic descriptions, for example, of the moon that “hung in the sky like a rotating, reflective orb with an approximate diameter of 2,158 miles.” For other funny books with non-realistic elements, you might also try the Time Warp Trio or Hank the Cowdog series.

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