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26 August 2011

Book Review Whales on Stilts

Whales on Stilts (M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales)Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this up for my kid at the library, flipped through it real quick to scan for possible emotional potholes and decided that it was so ironic and tongue-in-cheek that it would be fine.

And it was.  My son laughed and laughed and laughed.  Then I read it and laughed and laughed and laughed.  MT Anderson is funny.  And funny in a way that appeals to a seven year old and his jaded mother.  Both.

This is not one of those books that tries too hard to be clever.  This is one of those books that just simply IS clever.  The very embodiment of it.  Ostensibly a spoof of the children's literature of the 50s and 60s it is also an homage;  an homage to Nancy Drew and Tom Swift and the pulp, series children's books of that era.  There is the promotion of Gargletine, Jasper Dash's drink of choice and fake ads for books starring Jasper Dash (the Tom Swift character who says things like "Great Scott!  Will these cads never ceases mocking my jumpsuit?") and Katie Mulligan (kind of cross between Nancy Drew and Buffy the Vampire Slayer).   One of the fake ads features an asterisk next to the declaration "AVAILABLE AT FINE STORES NEAR YOU!"  The accompanying footnote, which occupies the bottom of seven pages, starts thusly;  "No longer available on the shelves at fine stores near you.  Available now exclusively and by special arrangement on the shelves of old vacation rental cottages, where you can often find Jasper Dash books in the living room, as well as old National Geographics, Chinese checkers, half colored-in Herbie the Love Bug activity books from 1978, used up Mad Libs, and dog-eared, boring novels for adults by Leon Uris, Colleen McCullough, and James Michener, I mean big, thick books with names like Space and Novel, you know what I mean ... all the books are dry and yellow from the sun, and all of them have wrinkly pages from the salt water, and when you flip through them, sand falls out as if it was index cards marking the place of former summers..."

The dialogue runs from clever to even more clever and nothing is sacred.

"The whale fired his laser-beam eyes.  The girls felt the jolt as the laser beam bounced off the mirror.  Of course the girls didn't feel the jolt as the laser bounced off the mirror, because lasers are just light.  This story is highly scientific, and I would never mislead you.  I want to depict whale eye-laser technology as accurately as possible.  Instantaneously the laser doubled back on itself, a continuous stream of light-using all the standard oculo-incendiary prohulsifiers and megegolisms that you'd expect ..."

And the "Guide for Reading and Thinking" was a nice touch.

Anderson continued Whales on Stilts into a series called Pals in Peril.  I've not yet read the follow-up books but if they are only 50 percent as clever and enjoyable as this one, they will be worth your time.

Highly recommend.


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