CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006
If the contents of this book in the “First Flight” series seem familiar, that’s because the book is an adaptation of a picture book originally published by Stoddart in 1999. As occurs in the other “Matthew” books, aspects from Matthew’s day find their way into his nighttime dreams, and, in turn, the dreams’ contents provide a solution to his problems. In this offering, Matthew’s enjoyment of doing art, his running away from the bully, Big Mike, his watching wrestling on TV and his not wanting to drink his milk, all become elements of a dream in which Matthew joins wrestler Tooloose the Wrecker (who also delivers what is labeled as “Wrestler’s Juice” door-to-door to the town’s artists) and becomes Slap Dash the Masher. In the weird internal logic of a dream, the match, involving six wrestlers in a “winner take all” bout, occurs in a wrestling gallery, and one portion of the contest involves the wrestlers each drawing a picture. The final two grapplers left standing are Matthew, aka Slap Dash the Masher, and the Masked Marvel. When Matthew defeats the Marvel and then unmasks him, he discovers his opponent to be none other than Big Mike. While the pair’s wrestling scores are tied, Matthew wins on the strength of his superior artwork. When Matthew is back in the world of reality the next morning, his mother, after hearing Matthew’s dream story, has a practical suggestion — judo lessons after his art class. Matthew willingly drinks his milk aka Wrestler’s Juice.
To become a level three reader, the original Matthew and the Midnight Wrestlers had to be revised so that its contents would be fully accessible to the independent reader. Consequently, a comparison of the 1999 picture book version with the “First Flight” adaptation shows numerous instances where entire passages have been removed, sentences have been restructured and words have been changed. For example, in the original, the bully “ambled” away, but now he just “walked” away, a much less descriptive way of describing Big Mike’s movement and one which reduces characterization. In another example, in the revised version, Matthew’s mother reminds him about his glass of milk. “‘You forgot to drink this at lunch,’ she said.” In the original, Mother words were: “‘You didn’t drink any [milk] at lunch,’ she said.” And Matthew has a reply. “‘I sort of forgot,’ Matthew told her.” Any child who doesn’t like to drink milk (or other liquids or certain foods) will recognize what Matthew is really saying.
Martcheko’s original illustrations, which occupied full pages and the occasional double page spread in the picture book, reappear but not always in their same form. Sometimes they are somewhat cropped, in other cases they are flipped, becoming mirror images of the originals, and, in still other instances, elements are taken from an illustration to create two illustrations on facing pages. As the picture book’s text is now divided into seven chapters, Martchenko has provided a small illustration to introduce most chapters and has created a new full-page illustration for the unmasking of the Masked Marvel.
Assessing the quality of an adaptation is always difficult because the original is the standard against which it must be judged, and there is no doubt that the 1999 picture book was stronger in its use of language and in its characterization. However, it must be kept in mind that the adapted version has a different purpose. The audience’s relationship with the original picture book was likely more passive as the book was probably read to its young listeners. With the “First Flight” version, the youngster’s role is meant to be much more active, with adult involvement limited to assisting with difficult words. Given that purpose then, Matthew and the Midnight Wrestlers, with its engaging storyline and delightfully detailed and action-filled illustrations, hits the target.
Dave Jenkinson teachers courses in children’s and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.