Return to Augie Hobble: Theme Parks, Creative Arts and Life in a Wolf Suit…

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If you are tired of the typical tropes, lackadaisical layouts and predictable plotting of standard middle grade reads, Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith will be a breath of fresh air.  We received a copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale—or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he’s failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won’t acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won’t leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he’s turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in—until the unthinkable happens and Augie’s life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.

Return to Augie Hobble was a package of unpredictability from start to finish.  Augie lives in a reasonably crappy amusement park based on a fairy tale theme and spends his summer sweeping up after guests and being picked on by bored teenage pranksters.  In his downtime, he and his best friend Britt escape to their fort in the woods and attempt to create a Creative Arts project that will get Augie a passing grade.  When Britt leaves on holiday and Augie has a strange encounter with someone in a wolf suit (or is it?), Augie’s life takes a turn for the weird…er.

This book is a bit of a cross between a graphic novel and an ordinary novel, as it is heavily illustrated throughout.  Along with the actual story the reader is privy to Augie’s multiple attempts to create a passable project for his summer school Creative Arts class and these range from cartoons to illustrated stories to photographs.  We also get to see some particularly …. unexpected …scribblings that appear in the notebook.  I use the word “appear” because Augie can’t explain how they got there…although he has a rather shrewd idea.

I won’t try to describe the plot of this story to you because it is twistier than a spring caught in an automated twisting machine – just when you think you can guess where the story’s going – phwip! – something completely unexpected pops up to change things around.  By the end of the book you’ll have vicariously experienced lycanthropism, theft, ghost activity, a genuine cowboy horse chase, gypsy prophesying, time-lapse photography, poltergeisting for the win, agents working on a government conspiracy and festive decorating.  By about two thirds of the way through the book I did feel that I had lost the thread a little because the plot was changing so quickly, but the writing is full of humour (some of it quite dark) and Augie is so relatable that I was willing to forgive a bit of disjointedness in the plot itself.

Presentation wise, this book will definitely appeal to young readers.  The cover design is engaging and the sheer volume of illustrations throughout break up the text beautifully, giving readers of all abilities a chance to evade the monotony of black-on-white text.  I’m not sure that the story will appeal to everyone – it has a unique mix of silliness and seriousness that I don’t think I’ve come across before – but if you are a fan of quirky humour and unbelievable situations then you will definitely appreciate Smith’s style.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Picture Book Perusal: There is a Tribe of Kids…

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If you are as much a fan of wordplay and wordishness as we are here on the Shelf, you should definitely seek out a copy of Lane Smith’s There is a Tribe of Kids.  We were lucky enough to receive a review copy from PanMacmillan Australia, who are publishing the title here in April, and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Did you ever want to waddle with a colony of penguins? Wriggle with an army of caterpillars? Or march with a troop of monkeys?

Lane Smith takes us on a colourful adventure through the natural world, following a child as he weaves through the jungle, dives under the ocean and soars into the sky. Along the way he makes friends and causes mischief with a dazzling array of creatures both large and small – but can he find a tribe of his own?

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It was the stark white-blue tones of the cover that caught my eye with this book, quickly followed by the absolutely adorable hairy goats and finally, the cheeky little protagonist hiding amongst the huddle.  I couldn’t begin to guess what the story might be about from the cover and the title, so it was with a little spark of delight that I opened the book to find out that not only was it about a tour through the little (and large) parts of the natural world, but also an homage to creative collective nouns.

The book begins with a small boy and the titular tribe of young goats and quickly moves on as the boy finds himself dropped, flopped and generally jostled from one group of animals to another.  He goes floating with a smack of jellyfish, crosses swords with a crash of rhinos and even follows a trail of shells to a surprise ending that will have fans of wordplay and synonym grinning from ear to ear.  My favourite page involved the boy mucking in with a turn of turtles, before getting bored with waiting for them to catch up and then falling asleep.

In each scene, the boy takes on some of the characteristics of the animal or environment.  He uses twigs as horns while with the kids, practices inching along with no hands among the caterpillars and snuggles in for the night on a bed of clams.  The illustrative style reminded me strongly of Chris Judge’s Lonely Beast series of picture books, with double page spreads cordoned off into smaller panels to illustrate multiple scenes on a single page.  The textured images perfectly suit the natural terrains that the boy encounters and the greens and browns alternating with whites and blues throughout give a thoroughly outdoorsy feel to the goings-on.

The illustrations here definitely bring the minimalist, repetitively formed text to life and elevate this book to one that deserves to be pored over again and again.  I can certainly see some mini-fleshlings being inspired to crawl like a caterpillar, climb like a kid or balance like a rock tower after flicking through this one a couple of times.

It’s for these reasons that I’m going to have to appoint There is a Tribe of Kids a TOP BOOK OF 2017 pick!

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Until next time,

Bruce