CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 18. . . . May 9, 2003
Stinky and Trouble With Girls are the latest additions to noted Canadian comic novelist Ted Staunton's new series, "The Kids From Monkey Mountain." The kids in these stories are classmates in Room 9 at O.P. Doberman School in Hope Springs -- a small town in farm country. The stories portray realistic events from these kids' daily lives.
In Stinky, the reader meets Janice Noonan, alias Greer, whose problems range from separated parents to being friends with the "most popular" girls to a skunk who has taken up residence under her father's trailer (hence the book's title). Janice's woes are compounded with a broken foot for her birthday. Like many children from newly separated families, Janice's birthday wish is to reunite her parents. Since this doesn't seem possible, she takes the matter into her own hands and sends her mother flowers supposedly from her dad. Of course, Janice isn't successful, and the story concludes with the frequently heard message from her parents that it isn't her fault and that she is loved by both of them. Janice does, however, display some newly developed wisdom when she admits to herself that there are things which are her fault and which she can fix "one step at a time."
Trouble With Girls takes place in exactly the same time frame as Stinky with the difference being that it is told from the point of view of Jeff, a classmate and near neighbor of Janice Noonan's. Jeff's life also has its difficulties -- his pet rats are not getting along, his best friend Nick is busy with the town musical and some girls (initially including Janice) who ride his bus will not leave him alone. But, unlike Janice, Jeff has another interest besides his problems. Jeff and Nick have created a comic strip hero called Cowboy Bob whose adventures they have sold to their classmates. Even though Nick is too busy to help with the latest edition of Cowboy Bob, Jeff is able to do the work himself which keeps the other issues in his life from taking over even when they become serious enough to result in disciplinary action at school for his tormentors.
For preteen readers, either of these books should provide light realistic reading material with which they may easily be able to identify. The writing style is concise, sometimes snappy in its diction, but the characters and setting are not lacking. Reading the two books together gives the reader an opportunity to develop a greater understanding and perhaps a sense of empathy for Janice, Jeff and the other kids. Such opportunities are not often found in novels of this level. Individually, Jeff's story is the stronger. His problems are important in his young life, but they are not all that compose it. The levity provided by his Cowboy Bob comic strip at the end of the novel finishes the story on a strong positive note. Janice's newfound wisdom at the end of Stinky does not carry the same weight with the reader. In actuality, the reader feels more satisfied for Janice and her life when both books are read.
Stinky and Trouble With Girls should be enjoyed both by boys and girls in the middle grades.
Gillian Martin Noonan is a teacher living in Old Perlican, NL.
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