Monday, January 7, 2019

Pottymouth and Stoopid

Pottymouth and Stoopid
by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
Recommended Ages: 10+

As a rule, I don't read books of the type in which James Patterson receives top billing as author, followed by some other writer, usually listed in a smaller typeface. Patterson is only one of a handful of authors to whom this rule applies – authors who have allowed their names to become a brand and who, I rather imagine, did less of the actual writing of most of those books than the less famous writer operating in their shadow. The book racks at Walmart and your neighborhood supermarket tend to offer more of this type of book than any other except, perhaps, those cheesy romance novels whose selling point is the hunky guy depicted on their covers. I might be induced, someday, to peruse the books actually written by James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton; in fact, I've already read one or two by those last two guys. But on principle, I try very hard to avoid books whose big-font author is, for all I know, a front for a sweat-shop talent factory in which almost all the work is done by someone who isn't getting the credit they deserve. Also, there's a legitimate concern that the quality of the work may not be very high, since, on the one hand, you may wonder why it needs a great big brand name stuck on it to make it sell, and, on the other hand, the brand is coming out with new products at such a rapid pace that quality control must suffer.

Now I've gotten that off my chest, I'll give you a hint why I bothered to read this book. One reason is that I was frankly curious. I guess the cover art, and the fact that it was always there when I looked at the book rack at a particular store for months on end, made me wonder. Another reason is that the second-billing author, Chris Grabenstein, is one whose books (credited to him alone) I have already read and enjoyed. So, I gave it a shot. But don't expect me to start spewing reviews of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" or "Middle School Diaries" production line. Not gonna happen.

It is, after all, a nice little book, in an unusual niche between a chapter book and a graphic novel, with lots of illustrations and even bits of dialogue in the form of comic panels. (The Last Kids on Earth had something similar going on.) It features a pair of misadventure-prone, lifelong buddies who, from the first day of kindergarten on, are bullied by their classmates, teachers and even their principal. Nobody calls them by their real name, but always by a couple of hurtful nicknames that, in spite of their mean-spirited intent, everyone comes to assume is all right. Then the deadbeat dad of one of the boys pitches the most hurtful version of their life story to the Cartoon Network, and animated characters based on them become an overnight TV sensation. This doesn't make things any easier for David and Michael – especially when their bullies realize that they, too, are being ridiculed on TV. Only when the media catches on to the fact that David and Michael are the real-life Pottymouth and Stoopid do things start to turn around.

This book isn't outrageously funny, but it has a nice streak of gentle humor that lightens up the touching and often sad story of two boys who can't help being a little different. They are lovable, distinctive characters. As for the talent displayed in this book, I really think Chris Grabenstein and Stephen Gilpin should have been trusted to carry it to success without sticking a great big James Patterson seal of soulless commercialism on it. Most of Grabenstein's numerous titles come under the Patterson umbrella, but Patterson's umbrella shelters so many other ghost writers that it's hard to believe he had much to do with them personally. Meantime, Grabenstein solo-authored the John Ceepak, Christopher Miller, Haunted Mystery, Mr. Lemoncello and Welcome to Wonderland series, The Explorer's Gate and The Island of Dr. Libris, as well as some Christmas-themed short stories and a play for children. Gilpin, meanwhile, has also illustrated at least some of the books in the Super Chicken Nugget Boy, Gecko and Sticky, and A-Z Mysteries series, as well as other children's books and comics, including Fart Squad and What to Do When You're Sent to Your Room. I've just looked through some of his catalog, and they're exactly the kind of pictures I want to look at when I'm feeling like a kid.

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