Book Review: The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5), by Stephan Pastis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_timmy_failure_the_book_you're_not_supposed_to_haveThis is book number five of a popular series that mixes ‘scribbly’ illustrations with first person narratives. It’s been created in the style of the equally, if not even more popular, multi-story treehouse books and Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

Timmy and his mates this time remind me a little of those characters like Dennis The Menace from the old Beano comics – short, squat, simply drawn but instantly recognizable. Their characters arrive fully formed because they are based on every cartoon that gone before them. They, and Timmy, are instantly recognisable as subservient but rebellious kids who want to buck convection and the adult world – ‘because they say so!’.  It’s an age-old ploy trick, used from everyone from Enid Blyton to RL Stine and the author of Captain Underpants.

The storyline picks up from number four – Sanitized for Your Protection (they all have names stolen from the adult world and repurposed). Banishment from Timmy’s calling as an amateur sleuth can’t keep this comically over-confident detective down. ‘This book was never meant to exist,’ claims the strapline.

No one needs to know the details. Just know this: there’s a Merry, a Larry, a missing tooth, and a teachers’ strike that is crippling Timmy Failure’s academic future. Worst of all, Timmy is banned from detective work by his over-protective mother. Not that that stops him! It’s a conspiracy of buffoons. He’s recorded everything in his private notebook but then his manuscript was stolen! So if this book gets out not only will he will be grounded for life but there could be even more dire consequences – beyond Timmy’s mom marrying Doorman Dave.

This is a great series, especially for getting new readers into chapter books.  I recently read an essay by Neil Gaiman that argued that kids just need to read. Just give them everything you can get your hands on. Don’t judge the content for the maturity or the language. Just get them reading. I’d have to agree. This is a great ‘gateway drug’ into the bigger novels and it is superb, silly fun. I suspect Pastis might be a secret Monty Python fan because here and there are theses little surrealist moments.

So, if your child likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or any of the books of that ‘genre’ then I think they will love the Timmy Failure books. My 6- and 8-year-olds love them. That’s why it took me so long to write this. They’d read them and passed them around the classroom!

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5)
by Stephan Pastis
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406373653

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck, By Jeff Kinney

This is the eighth book in this hugely popular series and cv_hard_luck_diary_of_a_wimpydelivers completely. Series fans and newcomers will be equally entertained by Jeff Kinney’s clever interpretation of everyday life. If you have not encountered this series, or the movies, before, the main character and narrator, whose diary this purports to be, is Greg Heffley. Greg is a typical boy in many ways – adventurous, mischievous, and at times utterly hapless and out of luck. At other times, pure genius and the luckiest boy at school. These books remind us what is to be a child trying to fit in and find a yet to be determined niche in the world.

In order to connect with young readers and be “believable” children’s authors are required to tap into the expectations and psyche of their readers. This is not that different for any writer, you need to know your audience, but for an adult writing for a primarily much younger audience this can be a tricky pathway to tread. Kinney is a master at this. I remember once  being in a writers’ workshop with the wonderful Joy Cowley who encouraged us all to meditate to take us into our own childhoods; to evoke a memory and the feelings associated with that memory; to imagine ourselves as a child of that age. It wasn’t totally unsuccessful and I could see immediately this was a very useful tool for any adult writing a children’s book. But Jeff Kinney seems to have surpassed even this phase – in capturing Greg’s story he seems to not so much been remembering but living Greg’s life. This is powerful and engaging narrative at its best. My own children have devoured all of the books in this series, and although they have moved onto more sophisticated texts, they both paused to read this book cover to cover one evening and loved the humour, and dare I say it, comfort, of another Wimpy Kid book.
If you are a kid, have ever been a kid, or a parent, then these books will trigger a memory or two. If you do not find something that resonates with your own life I would be surprised. This particular book is about wider families and the  idiosyncrasies that always accompany them; it’s about friendships and the waning and waxing and rekindling of them; it’s about the challenges of being a loving parent and wanting to do the best for for your most beloved children whilst not smothering their individuality. But most of all it’s funny and entertaining. You will laugh at Greg, his friends, his family and yourself. If you don’t laugh at yourself, then you need to try harder. To laugh that is.

Jeff Kinney has been described as a rock star in the publishing world, and one of the most influential (top 100) people in the world by Time magazine. The key reasons for his publishing success are an amazing ability to tune into the lives of young people; and a very accessible way of writing and drawing that looks incredibly easy, but clearly requires consummate skill. this is a book for everyone, and after you read this go back and read the early books in the series, if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck
by Jeff Kinney
ISBN 9780143308089

Email digest: Monday 28 May 2012

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