08 October 2009

So you've already read Wimpy Kid......

.....and it's still not October 12th, when Dog Days is due for release. While you're waiting for every one's favorite junior high diarist, let me introduce you to Julian Rodriguez. Julian is one seriously put-upon eight year old. In his first book, Trash Crisis on Earth, he not only has to take a test on an empty stomach, but then he is asked to take out the trash. Invasion of the Relatives involves enduring a Thanksgiving meal with the extended family: two nanas, two cousins, all revolting. Julian's trials and tribulations are dutifully reported to the Mother Ship (yes--did I mention that Julian survives his families demands by imagining he is an intergalactic First Officer?) from whence comes advice and encouragement and a semblance of reason, much like a digital Jimminy Cricket. The motif of Julian parading as an alien sleeper on Earth is played to the comic hilt with plenty of techno-babble tossed in to emphasize how the fantasy plays out in Julian's mind. For instance, his description of a ball, for the benefit of the Mother Ship, with which he must play catch with his cousins:

"...this ORB, how it tortures me! It is nothing but a cheap synthetic polymer formed in the shape of a sphere or a pointed egg, but the mini-brains worship it as though it had magical powers."

Or Julian's description of a Thanksgiving dinner:

"During this particular festival, the living quarters are festooned with natural debris. Groups of genetically linked mini-brains from different localities are invited to come and feast on hideous local specialties."

When you're eight, you can get away with that!

The book combines graphic elements with blocks of text and the impression that the reader is interacting directly with the Mother Ship through black pages representing a computer screen. There is a note at the back of the book describing the different types of fonts used; a lot of effort went into the visual effect of the book, and it shows. Stadler's angular style gives Julian an edgy appearance, while on his family it looks almost grotesque. Julian would not have it any other way!

It is easy to imagine that Julian Rodriguez might grow up to be Greg Heffley; his eye is as observant, his wit as razor-sharp, and his sense of taking-on-the-world just as finely honed. May they one day cross paths, if only on your To Be Read list.

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