CM . . . . Volume XV Number 21. . . .June 12, 2009.
Thumb and the Bad Guys.
Ken Roberts. Illustrated by Leanne Franson.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2009.
119 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-917-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-916-0 (hc.).
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Todd Kyle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“Doesn’t anyone want to hear me play the bagpipes?” asked Kirk McKenna.
“Actually,” said Susan, “I do.”
“Me, too,” I said.
So Kirk McKenna led us into his shed and closed the door so the sounds he made wouldn’t drift down into the village and across the bay and scare kids or call wolves or confuse the sonar systems in whales and submarines under the ocean.
Susan and I learned something very important that night. We learned that even though no bad guys lived in New Auckland, British Columbia, one very bad bagpipe player did.
Thumb and his friend Susan decide that they need to make sure that the tiny, remote fishing village on the BC coast they call home is truly free of the “bad guys” that seem to be needed to make life (and movies) more interesting. Suspecting fellow resident Kirk McKenna, they follow the middle-aged man up a mountain trail and discover a locked, hidden shack accessible by a secret cave behind a waterfall. Against the backdrop of another discovery – an antique cannonball and pewter ring that seem to indicate early European exploration of the area – Thumb and Susan discover that even good people can be suspected of doing bad things, and that Kirk McKenna’s hideout is for nothing more than playing bagpipes, which the townspeople have forbidden him to do within earshot.
Roberts’ latest instalment in the “Thumb” series continues the light humour and (mostly) believable hyperbole of the insular life in a remote village. Dialogue is witty; the narration is fairly simple, with short, staccato sentences that occasionally make for a choppy flow; and the characterization is full of the personality quirks that only kids (or small town folk) would ever notice. Thumb’s definition of bad guys – “people who break the law and try to get away and don’t really care if other people get hurt” – is the perfect clear-eyed statement that only a child would make, showing a nascent moral grounding. The ending, where Kirk is allowed to play (badly) at a town meeting about the archaeological finds, and where the town’s latest schoolteacher from the outside decides to stay, is satisfying, and just offbeat enough not to seem too pat.
Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians who is currently a branch manager in Mississauga, ON.
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