Sunday, March 2, 2008

Stanley Kiesel

The War Between the Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids
by Stanley Kiesel
Recommended Age: 12+

I found this book in the Young Readers section of the County Library. If you look there, you might find it too. Written by a Minneapolis-based teacher and poet, it's a sensitive portrait of misfit kids struggling against a school system that doesn't understand them, combined with a whacked-out, comical, outrageous adventure, topped with dollops of creepiness and strangeness. It's like what you might get if Jerry Spinelli and Daniel Pinkwater collaborated on a book. Or maybe not. It's just, er, different.

And it's also a bit uneven. There are times when I wished the author had zoomed in a little more and didn't let the story lurch forward in such huge leaps. But sometimes the quick pace worked well, and the glossed-over parts bridged the gaps between important scenes where the details & dialogue sometimes approached the level of poetry. Actually--in a passage that I believe is intentionally ironic--the main character produces some real poetry, which his stupid teacher considers worthless because it doesn't have correct punctuation and grammar.

The main character is a student named Skinny Malinky, and he leads the war in the title. At first it's just a war fought with pranks in a classroom, but it escalates into a real war--fought, at first, in a medieval tournament, then with a horrible weapon called the Status Quo Solidifier, and finally won in a desperate maneuver by a tribe of Bookworms who hide in the sewers to read.

Skinny is also aided by a girl named Big Alice Eyesore, who was raised by hyenas; a wise janitor named Ida; and a couple of eccentric old teachers named Dumpy and Bumpy. But are they a match against the evil schemes of Mr. Foreclosure, the chairman of the board? What board, you ask, is he chairman of? What board, I ask, isn't he chairman of? That kind of bad guy. Trust me, your mental picture of Mr. Foreclosure at this point is totally wrong (unless you've read this book). And while he is the worst of what Skinny Malinky has to fight against, he isn't the weirdest. The teachers Skinny encounters are so awful that you'll appreciate (some of) the teachers in your real school...and what Skinny and his friends do to them is pure, sweet revenge.

If you find this book, be warned: it's even weirder than this poor review can get across. But don't be afraid of the weirdness. Enjoy it!

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