(November 1, 2003; 0-439-41681-7)
Gr 3-6-Cartoonist Proimos addresses the fear of bullies with his usual unique panache. Super-short chapters describe Ricky V. ("Very Afraid") Smootz's return to his hometown when his dad gets a business transfer. The boy's dread of facing sixth grade is exacerbated by the presence of "perennial eighth grader" Keanu Dungston, wedgie lord over the new kids in middle school. A lot of the text is trademark goofy and the vignettes are truly weird, but the feeling of life-and-death trauma of dealing with an apparently all-powerful nemesis is pretty accurate. Grandma's suggestion for confronting the gang doesn't quite ring true, but fearful readers will at least experience vicarious triumph over evil even if blackmail doesn't happen to be one of their options. Proimos's kid-appealing, highly distorted portraits, in black and white, perfectly match the hyperbolic text and convey timidity, stupidity, grandmaternity, and even beauty (a wanna-be girlfriend). Teachers can follow up with a couple of higher-end short stories from Tim Wynne-Jones, such as "The Clark Beans Man" and "Hard Sell" from The Book of Changes (Orchard, 1995) to give their charges some creative possibilities for dealing with these schoolyard miscreants.-John Sigwald, Unger Memorial Library, Plainview, TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
(September 1, 2003; 0-439-41681-7)
Gr. 3-6. Faced with a middle-school bully famous for giving superwedgies to smaller folks like him, Ricky Smootz transforms himself into the unstoppable Cowboy Boy. This transformation, regaled in swift, hilarious, and high-falutin' patter as well as cartoon art filled with movement, requires some physical discomfort, faked sick time, an understanding grandmother, and an oblivious best friend. Proimos' self-important adults are blind to Ricky's problems, which allows Cowboy Boy to shine in all his goofy glory. Proimos, the author of the Loudness of Sam (1999), has a firm grasp of preadolescent male emotions and provides Ricky with just the right means for resolving his issues. This is just as dotty as Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books, but it confronts serious kid issues seriously, doing so with admirable panache. --Francisca Goldsmith Copyright 2003 Booklist
(July 7, 2003; 0-439-41681-7)
Proimos uses a format similar to his Johnny Mutton, He's So Him (the trim size of a beginning reader but with themes more appropriate to slightly older readers) and proposes that a timid greenhorn can triumph in middle school, in this case by assuming the cool persona of Cowboy Boy. Ricky V. Smootz-who jokes that "the V stands for Very Afraid"-starts sixth grade in abject fear of an older, stubble-haired bully named Keanu Dungston. Keanu's primary instrument of terror is "not just your regular standard wedgie. He lifts your underwear out the back and up over your head." Ricky receives one of these "superwedgies" the moment he sets foot in the comically named Richard M. Nixon Middle School, and he knows that he and Keanu are fixing for a showdown. When he calls his grandmother for advice, she mentions "Crazy Enzio," a loopy cowboy character who carries "loaves of Italian bread" in his holsters. In an unlikely twist, Ricky successfully models himself on Crazy Enzio, wearing a ten-gallon hat, vest and boots on the bus; he speaks with a twang and, most effectively, disarms the tough kids by cracking scatological jokes. "I had come up with a breakthrough theory," Ricky says. "[Bullies] found humor having to do with biological functions completely irresistible." While shouting non sequiturs like "Big Poopy Diapers!," as Ricky does, won't smooth every social encounter, Proimos uses this unserious tale to dispense helpful tips. The plot is convoluted, and the author resorts to the easiest humor (a "Baby-Wet-My-P