26 May 2010

Rave Review: Funny Lunch by David Catrow

Max Spaniel, the star of Dinosaur Hunt, is back for a second installment in this chaotically funny series from Scholastic. Kids might think that they are reading a book about a dog, but, as Max will tell you himself, he is not a dog. He is a chef. A great chef! Observant readers who paid attention to the title page might question Max's culinary credentials, but hey--a chef is nothing without his ego. And judging from this story, if it is representative of every day at Max's Diner, then who's to say that he is not great? He placates demanding customers, provides entertainment between courses, and even handles a tricky order when his own resources fail him. Max is indeed, some sort of special chef.

Plot details aside, Funny Lunch achieves what all early reader titles aim for--a defined story with minimal text that is fun to read while also challenging developing readers. Books that do this well are heavily reliant on the illustrations, which often set the tone for the story as well as fill in the narrative blanks for the reader. David Catrow's frenetic watercolors convey Max's energy in a way that can only be described as, well, doggish (sorry Max!) He rolls, pats, and tosses; he sings, dances, and performs tricks (of the magic variety;) he mixes and bakes. In fact, Max is non-stop from the moment he bounces out of bed in the morning, till the final page, when he and his tabby cat side-kick have a well-deserved pizza party. (I would like to say this about the tabby-cat sidekick--more please! Slightly imposed upon, more roly-poly than sleekly feline, and 100% devoted to Max, he is just as much of a visual treat as our hero.)

Writer and illustrator David Catrow pays homage to a couple of well-known easy reader classics in Funny Lunch, which simply adds to the fun of this title.  As Max gets ready to go to the diner, he has to choose just the right hat. His modeling and subsequent rejection of various headgear--until finally settling on just the right one--is straight out of Old Hat, New Hat by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Catrow has even left a visual reference for sharp eyed readers to discover.) And Max's literal interpretation of some of his customers' orders (a dog who orders chili is bundled up in hat, glove, and scarf; a request for a hot dog results in an overheated pooch in front of a fan,) is reminiscent of none other than the queen of literalism herself, Amelia Bedelia. If readers meet Max having already encountered these other titles, it will increase their delight in this book, as well as provide a canonical context within which to enjoy it.

With it's lovable protagonist, humorous plot, and delightful messiness, Funny Lunch is set to build upon the appeal of Dinosaur Hunt. You can read more about Max and his adventures in cooking here. And be sure to check out the official book trailer, which incorporates much of the original artwork.

(Thank you to Scholastic for providing me with a copy of the book to preview.)


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