March 6, 2013

Chomp and Knucklehead

These were our last two read-alouds with my daughter.  I think Chomp is the next book they're doing for the mother/daughter book club they've set up.  Which is awesome, don't you think?

There's only one mother in the book and she spends the majority of the story stuck in China teaching English classes and only showing up as a voice on the satellite phone when it's needed in the plot.  It's more about a son and his father.  Of course the son has a female friend who is awesome and has major conflicts with her father, so there's plenty of that going on.

It's about a "reality" survival show coming to Florida to shoot an episode in the Everglades.  They hire temperamental animal wrangler Mickey Cray to be in charge of the critters.  He needs the job and the big bucks they're paying but he doesn't play well with others.  That's where our more level-headed Cray, narrator Wahoo comes in.  Yes, he's named after the fish and doesn't appreciate it.  Neither of them like the pampered, idiotic and ego-driven actor playing the part of Derek Badger, star of Expedition Survival!  Yes, he's an actor and knows nothing about actually surviving in the wild, about handling animals, or even basic interpersonal skills.  On the way out to the shoot they pick up Wahoo's school friend Tuna (yes, another fish) who is on the run from her alcoholic and abusive father.  When things go wrong in the Everglades, they go really wrong.  They lose track of the star who is brain-addled from infection (he gets chomped by many things, but I think it was the bat bite that gets infected).  Tuna's father shows up on the hunt for his daughter with a volatile mix of alcohol and a gun.  Things get funny, crazy, touching, and just plain wild.

The main characters are great.  Wahoo wrangles the adults almost as well as his dad can wrangle critters.  Tuna is pretty level-headed herself under the circumstances and is a budding taxonomist to boot.  Derek is wonderfully dumb.  He affects an Aussie accent in honor of Steve Irwin, the Croc Hunter, but stays in hotels and sets up his animal "discoveries" more like Bear Grylls.  Unlike Grylls, though, he doesn't even have the slightest bit of outdoorsmanship.  He's the butt of most of the jokes, but Hiaasen gives him a bit of a reprieve at the end.  It's easier to let him off the hook when a pure baddie like Tuna's dad shows up causing all kinds of havoc.

Speaking of havoc, John Scieszka ("rhymes with Fresca") grew up with a mom, a dad, and five brothers.  Yes, the mom was definitely outnumbered by stinky boys.  He says even the pets were all boys!  Poor woman.  This book is a bunch of random recollections of "growing up Scieszka" and all the various nonsense these boys got into.  It's always one of my favorite go to time-filling read-alouds at school because there are many short funny chapters and the kids never fail to howl, then clamber to check it out (which does not happen often in the biography section, let me tell you).

Some of the wonderfulness includes their crazy uncle showing them how to make a firecracker mortar on a camping trip, the multiple times the brothers broke one of the younger one's bones playing a fondly remembered game called "Slaughter Ball," and of course his learning to cook because he hated cleaning up dog poop.  Guy reading gold right there.  My daughter and I giggled all the way through it while her mom rolled her eyes at us. Heh heh.