________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 17 . . . . April 18, 2008


Very Serious Children.

Caroline Adderson. Illustrated by Joe Weissmann.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1999/2007.
145 pp., pbk., $9.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-93751-1.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Deborah Mervold and Kessa Gerein.

**** /4


Chapter 1, Me –– Nicky H.H. Grant

Nicky’s not short for Nicholas, though you probably thought it was. I will tell you what it is short for –– but if you are the kind of person who makes fun of kids with weird names, I’d rather you closed this book right now. Just stop reading. Leave it on the bus or a park bench for a nicer kid to pick up. Unless you got it from the library, of course.

It’s Nickelodeon.

You probably know that Nickelodeon is a TV channel that plays cartoons all day. But a long time ago, before TV, a nickelodeon was a movie theatre that charged a nickel to get in. I read that in the dictionary.

There. Now you know. “My name means cheap movie theatre.”

And so begins the story of Nicky and his brother, S.A.G. Grant, which stands for Split a Gut, but he is called Saggy. Why the funny names? Nicky’s mom and dad, Red and Len, also known as Mr. and Ms. Toots for their clown act in Mr. Fudge’s Fantastic Flyers’ Circus, thought their boys were too serious and needed fun names. Nicky and Saggy do not like being part of the circus but go along with their parents because Red and Len love being clowns. Nicky wants a proper education in a school where he can make friends. Nicky writes the story of his last days in the circus until his parents get arrested and the family gets a permanent location in the town of Sonnet, Saskatchewan. Len and Red refuse to pay their bill at “The Pink Pearl” restaurant, and Nicky has to bail them out of jail.

     There are a number of other characters in the story including Mr. Fudge, who runs the acrobatic circus, Bruce, the strongish man, Grandma Jack, Mimi and Claude, the acrobats, and non-circus people, Mrs. Horner, Sal-Sally, Coco, the Grant’s dog, Sir John A. MacDonald, Mr. Fudge’s rabbit, and the Lees, the family who owns the “Pink Pearl” restaurant.

     The Lees come into the story when Len and Red go to the restaurant and can’t pay their bill. The Lee family is made up of the mother, father, two teenaged daughters and a boy who looked about seven but was actually nine. They had been part of the Shanghai Circus. They came to Canada on a tour, decided not to return to China, and opened the restaurant in Halo. When Nicky goes to school with Gim in Whynot, the boys go to the principal’s office because they are new students but realize that they might get into trouble when the principal asks why Gim has a bald spot. Gim worries that, if the principal finds out that his dad breaks things over his head in the act, he will be removed from his family. The Lees join the Fantastic Flyers and continue on tour with the circus.

     At the conclusion of the story, Mr. and Ms. Grant, leave the circus and set up a clown business in the small town which they now call home. Nicky and Saggy get their wish and can go to school and have friends over.

     The main plot is the story of Nicky and Saggy and their wish to run away from the circus. They love their parents but want to settle down and go to school. The humour comes in through the fact that, while most young people want to run away to join the circus, Caroline Adderson has reversed the roles of parents and children. The children are responsible and serious while the parents are always making jokes and doing things like buzzing a hand buzzer when shaking hands. A subplot is that of Mr. Fudge and his on-going romance with Sal-Sally. Sal-Sally is half woman and half man, brother and sister. Sally likes Mr. Fudge but Sal doesn’t, and so the relationship doesn’t work. When the boys run away, they meet Mrs. Horner who looks after them for a night. When Mr. Fudge and Mrs. Horner meet, they realize that they want to settle down together.

     Humour is a major part of the book. There are many humorous incidents including when Grandma Jack, who is a size 44, finds meaning to her life when she is under stress and helps out a farmer whose incubator breaks down. The delightful drawing shows Grandma Jack surrounded by the eggs. The other illustrations add to the humour of the novel and depict characters, such as Sal-Sally, so the reader can picture the character.

     The style of the novel is a journal written for the reader as if Nicky wants everyone to understand what his family is going through. He types his manuscript on a typewriter which is almost out of ink. Indeed, part way through the book, the ink runs out, and Nicky continues with Saskatoon Berry juice, which is reddish-purple. This also runs out, and the final page is very faint which also adds to the mood of the story. Another positive part of the book is the vocabulary which Nicky explains to the reader.

     My co-reviewer and I enjoyed the story, the characters and the humour. Very Serious Children would be an excellent addition to a school or public library. The novel would be a good choice as a read-aloud selection in a classroom. Readers, both male and female, who enjoy humour, adventure, realistic fiction, or just a good read would enjoy this novel.

Highly Recommended.

Deborah Mervold, an educator and teacher-librarian from Shellbrook, SK., is presently employed by Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) working in the areas of faculty training and program development. Kessa Gerein is a Grade 5 student in Saskatoon where she enjoys reading, basketball and dance.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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