CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 15 . . . . March 30, 2001
Grades 2 - 4 / Ages 7 - 9.
excerpt: (from The Monkey Mountain Monster.)
From out of the darkness, something brushed her shoulder. Lindsey went up like a rocket.The first three books in Ted Staunton's Monkey Mountain Series feature Nick, Lindsey and Travis who are classmates at Doberman School in the fictional "anytown" of Hope Springs. Each child stars in one of the titles which are presented in the short chapter format suitable for readers in grades 2 to 4. The stories revolve around relationships with friends and families. The author has created a cast of dynamic, memorable characters, plenty of humour (a Staunton trademark) and well-paced plots with believable school-age conflicts and satisfying endings.
In Two False Moves, Nick's rented home goes up for sale, and he can't see anything good about moving. His luck appears down altogether compared to that of classmate Lindsey who seems to have all the advantages. She may even be getting his house. The two are unwillingly paired for a science project, and antagonism builds until their conflict wrecks the class performance at the winter concert. When Nick discovers Lindsey's life isn't perfect either (her parents are about to separate), he realizes his own close-knit family is the only good luck charm he needs.
In Monkey Mountain Monster, during Lindsey's sleepover, Mona tells a monster story. "It's called the Ooly-Gooly. It comes from out of this polluted stuff they dumped in the woods... at night, and it creeps around and eats things!" Then Mona dares Lindsey to sleep out in her backyard, alone. It's one more thing to worry about, along with hints of her parents' looming separation. Mom insists Lindsey's mischievous little brother, Kyle, go along. The monster (or, at least, a family of skunks) arrives, but a series of mishaps results in Mona's and Caitlyn's getting the worst of it. For Lindsey, the best part is sharing a renewed closeness with Kyle and her mom.
In Forgive Us Our Travises, Travis Bee, who is overshadowed by his two older brothers, is an incurable practical joker. His pranks include everything from squirting water on the congregation at his dad's church to the fizzy pop can trick and "some of his usuals--armpit farts, spitballs, repeat-after-me's..." As long as he gets a reaction, especially from Mary Beth whom he secretly likes, Travis cruises through his days bugging people. Then Miss Cousins, the choir director, offers him a challenge--sing a solo at the rededication of the church. Mary Beth ups the ante by stuffing a raw egg down his pants just as he's about to go on. For a change, Travis sees how it feels to be the object of a prank. Does it reform Travis? He's incurable, remember!
Readers of both genders will readily identify with the various characters; hopefully though, for the sake of teachers and parents, there are not too many Travises out there. Enough tantalizing details of secondary characters are given in each book to entice the reader to get to know them better as main character in the next.
Most children prefer to read about characters slightly older than themselves. Readers at the high end of the age range for this series may feel the characters are a bit young. Some of the class activities (graphing where Christmas stockings are hung, snowman suits for the concert, the kids inability to sing a well-known song without the tape) and the 'monster' content, suggest second grade. However, the humour, conflict and true-to-life dialogue will be enjoyed by all, and the books would work well as read-alouds.
The third book, Forgive Us Our Travises, is written in present tense, an effective technique for inviting engagement with the main character. In this case, it's a rare insight into the mind and motivations of a practical joker:excerpt:
"A step or two away, [Travis] can see everyone watching Kyle shake up his pop. As Kyle begins turning the tin carefully in his hand, Travis ...walks off. It's exit time...He also doesn't want to be too close when Kyle's pop geysers all over the school yard...Travis hasn't quite told the truth about the trick."And you can't help but feel sorry for Travis, despite his lengthy prank record, even as you are applauding Mary Beth's plan at the end. It's a brilliant character study. Use this book for an enlightening discussion if your class/family has a Travis!
To keep the pages turning, there is an element of mystery built into all three books. Readers are kept in suspense until the final chapter wondering about the buyer of Nick's home, whether there really is an Ooly-Gooly, and how (or if) Travis will come to justice. All three stories are well-written, though the action and humor gain greater momentum in the second and third books.
The mature-sounding titles of the first and third books may not attract younger readers as much as the second, The Monkey Mountain Monster. Likewise, the action-oriented cover of the second book will draw the curious. The photo-like quality of the cover art is somewhat at odds with the less precise and less consistent inside sketches which do little to enhance these stories. However, it's the stories, themselves, and the well-defined characters that will keep readers on the lookout for more episodes in the lives of "The Kids from Monkey Mountain."
Gillian Richardson is a former teacher-librarian and a published children's writer of fiction and nonfiction, living in BC.
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