The Barftastic Life of Louie Burger

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Overview

Fifth grader Louie Burger figures that with a goofy name like his, he must be destined to be a king of comedy like his idol Lou Lafferman. But he’s only ever performed his stand-up act in his closet, where he and his dad created the most exclusive comedy club ever—if by “exclusive” you mean that no one’s ever allowed inside. With the school talent show coming up, Louie’s wondering if now is his moment to kill (that’s comedian talk for “make actual people laugh”). And maybe, if he brings down the house, he’ll...

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Overview

Fifth grader Louie Burger figures that with a goofy name like his, he must be destined to be a king of comedy like his idol Lou Lafferman. But he’s only ever performed his stand-up act in his closet, where he and his dad created the most exclusive comedy club ever—if by “exclusive” you mean that no one’s ever allowed inside. With the school talent show coming up, Louie’s wondering if now is his moment to kill (that’s comedian talk for “make actual people laugh”). And maybe, if he brings down the house, he’ll win back his former best friend Nick—who seems to be turning into one of those annoying sporty types—and fend off his dad’s home-improvement obsession, which threatens to remodel Louie’s comedy closet into a private bedroom for his older sister. Barftrocious!

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Louie dreams of doing standup comedy, and he gives it his all when he’s alone on the stage he and his father built in his oversize bedroom closet. But he’s also upfront about his fear of performing: “What’s the deal with stage fright?” he asks, Seinfeld-style. “It’s not like the stage is going to bite me or give me a wedgie. It would make more sense to have audience fright. Actually, I have that, too.” In addition to the fifth-grader’s anxiety about participating in the school talent show, Louie feels abandoned both by his best friend and by his recently unemployed father, who becomes depressed when his artistic aspirations don’t pan out. Though “barf” is a cornerstone of Louie’s vocabulary (sports are “barfgusting,” Fluffer-nutters are “barfmazing”), Meyerhoff (Sami’s Sleepaway Summer) deals with peer relationships, family cohesiveness, and finding the courage to follow one’s dreams—amid the rampant bodily humor. Week’s energetic comics-style cartoons ramp up the story’s slapstick comedy, whether demonstrating Louie’s “Barf Brothers” secret handshake or his major faceplant during gym glass. Ages 8–12. Author’s agent: Jennifer Mattson, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
“Filled with funny quips and lovable characters, this book really packs a punch line. Kids will eat this Burger up!” —Tommy Greenwald, author of Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading

“Meyerhoff does a good job of capturing the protagonist’s voice, and readers will identify with Louie. Clever illustrations enhance the narrative. Give this one to those who enjoyed Lisa Yee’s “Bobby” books (Scholastic) or Lenore Look’s “Alvin Ho” series (Random), and to reluctant readers.” —School Library Journal

“Meyerhoff deals with peer relationships, family cohesiveness, and finding the courage to follow one’s dreams—amid the rampant bodily humor. Week’s energetic comics-style cartoons ramp up the story’s slapstick comedy, whether demonstrating Louie’s ‘Barf Brothers’ secret handshake or his major faceplant during gym glass.” —Publishers Weekly 

 

Children's Literature - Bonita Herold
Louie Burger knows that he wants to be a comedian when he grows up; he has worshipped comedian Lou Lafferman for as long as he can remember. But nobody yet knows the extent of Louie's funniness because he gets stage fright just thinking about sharing his act. Louie may test the waters by participating in the fifth-grade talent show, but he's worried that he won't be able to go through with it and people will laugh. Coming to the realization that a partner may be the way to go doesn't do him any good. His best friend Nick has already partnered with his seemingly new best friend, Thermos. What does he see in her, anyway? Louie's a little bit like his father, whose dream is to be an artist. Is either of them brave enough to face rejection? Do they even have what it takes to succeed? Or should both of them give up when, at first, things don't work out? Full of humor as well as angst, the book reveals the inner workings of a bullied, scared comedian who wants to be accepted for who he is. What do you get when the chicken crosses the street? Being the unique but good egg he is, Louie Burger would probably say, "A barftastically well-traveled chicken!" Reviewer: Bonita Herold
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Fifth-grader Louie Burger is a would-be comedian with a bad case of stage fright. He has a great repertoire of funny jokes that he can only perform in front of a pretend audience on a stage he and his dad built inside his closet. Louie's best friend for years has been his neighbor, Nick Yamashita. Recently Nick has become friends with a girl whose nickname is Thermos. Although they try to include Louie in their activities, he is jealous and ends up being rude. Navigating this friendship issue is difficult, and Louie is not finding as much support as usual from his dad, who recently lost his job. When Louie feels overwhelmed, he writes and draws funny journal entries. With the fifth-grade talent show looming, he receives help in overcoming his stage fright from an unexpected source. At times the "barf" silliness becomes a distraction to the well-written story, but Meyerhoff does a good job of capturing the protagonist's voice, and readers will identify with Louie. Clever illustrations enhance the narrative. Give this one to those who enjoyed Lisa Yee's "Bobby" books (Scholastic) or Lenore Look's "Alvin Ho" series (Random), and to reluctant readers.—Tina Martin, Arlington Heights Memorial Library, IL
Kirkus Reviews
In a debut that would be more appropriately titled Stand-Up Chuck, Meyerhoff saddles a fifth-grade would-be comedian with both severe stage fright and a new classmate who comes between him and his best friend. Having introduced a full-page glossary of vomit vocabulary, from "barfcredible" to "barftrocious," Louie then relentlessly draws on it to describe his life. He focuses on the stand-up routine, which he's been practicing for two years ("you can't rush comedy") but can't face performing before a live audience, and his longtime friendship (as the self-billed "Barf Brothers") with Nick Yamashita. This is suddenly complicated by Theodora, a jock who refuses to wear girl clothes unless forced to and insists on being called "Thermos." Tucking in family stresses and the currently requisite bully issues, the author guides her protagonist past Nick's actual gastric gusher in class to a climactic talent-show triumph that is cut short by one of his own. His wild delight at discovering that his little sister had filmed the latter spew and sent it to a TV show ends the tale on an up-tempo, if counterintuitive, strain. Week's fluid ink-and-wash illustrations reflect the light tone without depicting any of the gross bits. A gusher of half-digested elements and overchewed laffs, more reminiscent of the late, unlamented Barf-O-Rama series than similarly premised novels like Gordon Korman's Maxx Comedy (2003) or James Patterson's I Funny (2012). (Fiction. 9-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374305185
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/4/2013
  • Series: Barftastic Life of Louie Burger Series , #1
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 500,048
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 680L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny Meyerhoff is the author of a novel for teens, Queen of Secrets, and a chapter book, Third Grade Baby. She lives in Riverwoods, Illinois.

 

Jason Week was born and raised in a smallish central Wisconsin town, so he had a lot of time to practice cartooning while he was growing up. He currently lives outside of Chicago with his beautiful, brilliant wife.

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Read an Excerpt

NOSTRIL HAIR

 

 

 

I step into my closet, which is twice the size of my bedroom, and flick the special switch my dad installed. Footlights glow in the corners of the room and along the edge of the built-in stage. My arms tingle.

“Laaadies and gennntlemen!” the announcer’s voice booms inside my head. “Put your hands together for the next act in the fifth-grade talent show … Looooou-ie Burrrrr-ger!”

I jog onto the stage, grab the microphone, and toss it from my left hand to my right.

“Thank you. Thank you,” I say. “It’s great to be here in the Barker Elementary gym, but don’t ask me to do any pull-ups. I had to do pull-ups for the President’s Challenge fitness test, and I sprained my armpit. I guess I’ll never be president.”

I pause for a minute to let the crowd laugh. Today the crowd is made up of shoes, T-shirts, and posters of my favorite comedians, especially my idol, Lou Lafferman.

I’m about to deliver my bit about school cafeterias when I hear a knock at the door, and my dad bursts in. Instantly I feel naked with nothing but a microphone stand to hide behind. I dive off the stage, land in my beanbag chair, and grab a Nutso magazine.

Dad raises an eyebrow. My magazine is upside down. I toss it on the floor and fold my arms across my chest. “You’re supposed to wait until I say come in.”

“Sorry. I forgot.” He steps back outside and knocks again.

I roll my eyes. “Come in.”

Dad slips inside, sits on the floor, and smiles at me. “I’m glad you’re using the stage. Are you ready to show me your act?”

“Not yet.” I squirm. “It’s not finished.”

Seriously. I’ve only been working on it for two years. You can’t rush comedy.

My dad nods slowly, and I blush. There’s one problem with my dream of becoming a world-famous comedian. I’m too chicken to show anyone my act. What’s the deal with stage fright? It’s not like the stage is going to bite me or give me a wedgie. It would make more sense to have audience fright.

Actually, I have that, too.

I slump off the beanbag and onto the floor. “Sorry you wasted your time building the stage.”

Dad made me the coolest stage any kid has ever had in his closet: shiny black, with neon silhouettes of laughing people painted around the sides. There’s a silver curtain for the backdrop, too, exactly like the one on Lou Lafferman’s Laff Nite. It took us three whole days to make, and I didn’t even have to ask for it. Dad heard me mention how cool it would be to have a stage like Lou’s, how it would make me feel like a real comedian, and boom, next thing you know, we’re building a stage.

Dad squeezes my shoulder. “I’m glad we built it. I bet now that you have the stage, you’ll be ready to perform for an audience in no time. Maybe if my parents had pushed me when I was your age, I would already be a successful artist, instead of a forty-year-old beginner.”

When he says that, he stares right into my eyes. A funny feeling burbles in the pit of my stomach, and I imagine my grandparents pushing my father off the roof of their house with one of his sculptures. It doesn’t sound so great to me. My dad’s a junk artist, by the way. That’s a real thing. You can Google it.

“Sometimes kids need a push,” he continues.

“Sometimes they need a forty-two-inch flat-screen TV in their bedroom.”

My dad laughs, then nods his head as if he’s decided something. “You’re funny, Louie. You should do your act in the school talent show.”

The mention of the show turns my intestines to Jell-O. “Uh, the show was canceled this year,” I say.

“Nice try.” Dad gives me a noogie. “But it was printed in black and white on the calendar that came with your class list last week. The show is next month, plenty of time for you to finish your act. It’ll be good for you.”

I picture myself standing in the spotlight, telling my jokes while Ryan Rakefield shouts from the back of the room, “You’re so funny I forgot to laugh!” It’s the same way he heckled me in third grade when I told knock-knock jokes for show-and-tell.

“Too many people,” I say.

Dad nods his head sympathetically, and I sigh in relief. Then he says, “Start smaller. Do your act for me.”

Even one person feels like too many. My dad might not laugh. A shoes, T-shirts, and baseball-cap crowd is much safer. “My throat’s dry.”

“I understand. Maybe another time.” Dad gets up and puts his hand on the doorknob. “Tomorrow’s a big day. You nervous?”

Tomorrow is the first day of fifth grade. I should be nervous, since Ryan Rakefield is in my class. Again. But I actually feel excited about school this year because my best friend is finally in my class, too. Nick Yamashita. First time ever!

“Nah,” I say. “Not with Nick in my class.”

“I’ve got a big day tomorrow, too.”

“You do?” I turn my head to look up at him. He has a lot more hair in his nostrils than I remembered. I bet it keeps his boogers warm.

“I’m meeting with a gallery owner.”

“But Mom said it would be years before you start to sell your work.”

My dad tilts his head and gives me a curious look. “She did?”

“Uh…” I scratch my head. I think that was supposed to be a secret.

Eight weeks ago my dad was a vice president of strategic marketing. Then his company decided they didn’t need so many vice presidents. They gave him a pile of money, though, so Dad decided to try his dream of being an artist, and Mom decided to go back to work. She also gave Ariella, Ruby, and me a million talks about saving money, helping around the house, and being patient and supportive.

“No. Wait. I’m confused,” I say to my dad. “I think she said days.”

Dad rubs his left temple. I don’t think he believes me, and I worry that what I said to him was the junk artist version of You’re so funny I forgot to laugh. I want to take it back.

“Uh, Dad,” I say before I can stop myself, “maybe I could do my act for you tomorrow. After school.”

“You’re on!” My dad’s happiness almost cancels out the cold, clammy feeling spreading down my neck. He snaps his fingers. “Let’s make a pact. I’ll take the art world by storm, and you’ll become a comedy showstopper.”

My dad does jazz hands and Groucho Marx eyebrows as if to say Whaddaya think?

I’m not sure. I want to be a comedian more than anything in the world, but what if … what if I’m not funny?

“Don’t leave me hanging, Louie!” My dad clutches at his chest. “Let’s help each other out tomorrow. The Burger men have to stick together.”

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll try.” I put out my hand, and my dad grabs it and shakes.

I hope I can live up to my end of the bargain.

 

The Barftastic Life of Louie Burger

A Comedy Sketchbook

By Louie Burger (obviously)

The Scientific Evidence That Proves I Am a Comedian

Exhibit A: I’m funny looking. I have curly orange hair. I’m skinnier than a jump rope and my ears stick out a mile. I’m also completely uncoordinated. Need I say more?

Exhibit B: I play the accordion.

Exhibit C: I’m strangely connected to many famous comedians. My initials are the same as Lucille Ball’s. My birthday is the same as Charlie Chaplin’s. And I’m from the same town as Bill Murray. Also, I have the same first name as Lou Lafferman, the greatest comedian in the history of comedians.

Exhibit D: I already have my own catchphrase: barftastic! It means amazing times fantastic plus unbelievable. Squared.

 

Text copyright © 2013 by Jenny Meyerhoff

Pictures copyright © 2013 by Jason Week

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