I’m continuing with my theme from last week of highlighting books that appeal to kids (not just grownups). Today I’m going to share another favorite at my house. It’s not a book that I’ve heard a lot of buzz online about, but I enjoyed it as well as my 12-year-old, who read the third book in two days.
If you enjoy omniscient narrators, families on the run, books about scientists, and time machines, this one’s for you.
The synopsis for the first book:
Mr. Cheeseman, his three relatively odor-free children, a psychic hairless dog, and a sock puppet named Steve are on the run. Why? Because Mr. Cheeseman invented a time machine, of course. Now they're being chased by international super spies, top secret government agents, and a genius monkey. Dr. Cuthbert Soup, the head of the Center of Unsolicited Advice, narrates this wild adventure that will lead readers straight into next season's sequel: Another Whole Nother Story.
What I found interesting about this series is that it broke a couple writing rules.
- The kid characters names kept changing. Usually it’s best to keep character names simple, so as not to confuse readers. But in A Whole Nother Story, the kid characters pick their own new names whenever they are on the run. I admit it could be hard to adjust to as a reader, but I loved how this added whimsy to the narrative. What kid doesn’t fantasize about choosing a new name?
- The main character is an adult. Parents usually need to get out of the way in kidlit. But the dad, Ethan Cheeseman, is a major character in this series. Although the kids solve many of the problems, the story wouldn’t happen without their dad. It’s his story—of building the time machine and losing his wife—that drives the narrative.A couple of other things I enjoyed:
- The omniscient narrator. I love Cuthbert Soup’s unsolicited advice sprinkled throughout the book, his plays on words, and general fun. My son particularly enjoyed his interesting takes on history.
- An interesting premise: Who wouldn’t want to read about a family on the run? Throw in some government agents, a mother dying under mysterious circumstances, and a time machine (that may or may not be used for nefarious purposes) and I was hooked. I also liked how the question of finding out what happened to the mother was carried through all three books to completion in book 3.
- Interesting side characters: Whether it’s circus performers without a circus or pirates, Soup never takes his characters too seriously.
- Oh, and did I mention there’s a sock puppet named Steve?If you are a fan of omniscient narrators who have their own story like in Lemony Snicket’s SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS or Maryrose Wood’s THE INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE, you will love this book. It is not as dark as Snicket nor as cerebral as INCORRIBLE CHILDREN, but a lot of fun.*It’s interesting to me that many of the books that children love and are huge commercial successes are omniscient narrators. To me, this is breaking another rule, because writers are often advised to avoid omniscient.What do you think is the appeal of omniscient narrators?
If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.