by Kate McMullan, illus. by George Booth
No matter what kind of school experience your child is having, he or she can recognize some aspect of School! The subtitle lets you know what’s in store: “Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School.” And who wouldn’t want to attend a school like Harvey N. Trouble Elementary? Okay, maybe you couldn’t stomach the cafeteria’s daily special: Beanie Weenies on a bun. But as soon as you see New Yorker cover artist George Booth’s “Who’s Who” illustrations on the endpapers, you know, as Izzy Normal often puts it, “this is not normal.” There’s the mathematically compulsive Adam Up, kindergarten teacher Mr. Hugh da Mann, and the perpetually-perched-on-the-edge-of-his-seat Sid Down. These snapshots provide a helpful reference, too, as we get a glimpse of a “not normal” week at school, as well as home life with Ron Faster, his former racecar driver father (Hugo Faster), and his quick-baking mom, Mrs. Cookie Faster. More recently, speed has held the Fasters back. But now their luck seems to be turning.
Each day, Mr. Stuckinaditch, the bus driver, seemingly unavoidably aims the bus into a ditch, and makes Ron Faster and the other young riders tardy. Luckily, “You’re never in trouble at Harvey N. Trouble school,” says Ms. Seeyalater, as she promptly writes out late passes and sends the children on their way (calling “See you later!”). All week, Ron’s teacher, Mrs. Petzgalore, has been out due to various ailments among her menagerie. The situation provides plenty of opportunities for substitute teacher shenanigans. McMullan (I Stink!) tunes her ear to the elementary student voice and sensibility, and marvelously models family mealtimes and rituals even as she pokes fun at them. When Mr. and Mrs. Faster ask Ron about his schoolday, he says, “I learned that just because a teacher carries a big brown briefcase, doesn’t mean he’s going to be boring.” To which his father responds, “It’s like I always say,… you can’t judge a teacher by his briefcase.” Booth’s line drawings serve as miniature character studies, many of them repeated for emphasis. The drawings can dominate a spread or zero in on a postage stamp-size image that expresses more in posture and attitude than any description can provide. The turning point comes when Ron Faster’s kindergarten buddy needs help, and Ron must use his speed to bring him to safety. His parents, too, find ways to harness their quickness in positive ways. Your child will extol the virtues of the punny names (and likely be spurred to come up with a few of their own), while absorbing a few valuable pointers along the way.