________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 9. . . .October 29, 2010


Bogbrush the Barbarian.

Howard Whitehouse. Illustrated by Bill Slavin.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2010.
184 pp., hardcover, $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-55337-701-6.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Todd Kyle.

***1/2 /4



Bogbrush was in trouble again. Big trouble. Bad trouble. “That’s another cow you’ve chopped into bits, Bogbrush,” said his mother.

“That’s four. Or seven. A lot, anyway.” Bogbrush said that wasn’t true at all. Two of the monsters he’d slain had been pigs. “That makes no difference,” said his father. “It weren’t our cowses or pigses you’ve killed.” You could tell

Bogbrush’s father was a yokel (and not a heroic barbarian warrior) by the way he talked. “I have to pay old Stinkweed twenty pieces of silver, or fourteen, or something like that, for his cow. And there be the barn you burnded down—“

“That barn was full of demons!” said Bogbrush. “Vile devils. Inside the haystacks. Waiting to jump out and murder us all!”

Bogbrush fancies himself a barbarian warrior like his grandfather Bumrash, but his parents can’t handle him, and so he sets out on a heroic quest of unknown destination. At the Temple of the Great Belch, he is told his quest is to pull the axe from the stone in the kingdom of Scrofula and thereby become king. On the way, he is joined by his new friends, Sneaky the thief and Diphtheria the performer/alchemist. Together, they escape the clutches of the evil mage Zeldar and his band of hairy apemen. Reaching Scrofula, Bogbrush finds he isn’t quite able to pull the axe out of the stone, but he does lift the entire stone with the axe still in it, inadvertently destroying the temple of Scrofula and causing much trouble from which the threesome make their escape.

internal art     Bogbrush the Barbarian is not in any way a serious novel. It has no socially relevant themes – although, if you stretch it, a learned female alchemist might make do. But that isn’t the point: Bogbrush the Barbarian is meant to be nothing but a hilarious romp that goes from one witty joke to the next, with all sorts of “educational” sidebars like this one: GEOGRAPHY LESSON! FOREIGN, FARAWAY PLACES include distant Tzing, legendary Kalash, unpleasant Yeccchh and mythical Saskatoon. They are probably all imaginary. I’ve never been to them, anyway.

      The sense of irony is palpable, the humour slapstick and only occasionally shrill. History is distorted beyond (almost) all recognition, and the characters are caricatured beyond belief. Bogbrush, himself, is a hero, not because of his bravery or his skill, but because of the innocent wild abandon with which he throws himself into every battle. In fact, he’s almost an anti-hero, and one that will keep young readers (dare I say especially boys?) in side-splitting laughter right until the end.

      It’s not serious literature, but it’s not trying to be. For what it is, Bogbrush the Barbarian succeeds very well.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and has served on the jury of a number of children’s literature awards.

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

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