A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers is the next in Gail Gauthier's Hannah and Brandon series, after A Girl, A Boy, and a Monster Cat (reviewed here). Both books are aimed at early readers, with short chapters and occasional illustrations, written for about a second-grade level sensibility. In this installment, Brandon (the narrator) is still being forced to stay at Hannah's house three afternoons a week while his mother is at work. Every day, Hannah drags Brandon into imaginative games, while Brandon, with ever-decreasing conviction, claims to wish he could just watch television. However, the astute reader will notice that Brandon does occasionally make suggestions of his own about the games - he just has very clear preferences.
In A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers, Hannah and Brandon battle three pestilential younger neighborhood siblings who are determined to rob them of Hannah's cat, Buttercup. Even though Brandon considers Buttercup well able to take care of himself, Hannah, with classic flair, turns the whole thing into a series of adventures.
I love Brandon's voice. He is all boy, even when he's being besieged by Hannah and/or the neighbor children. He wants nothing to do with games about fairies, or tea parties, but he can be pulled in by vampires and evil wizards. He takes the circumstances of his time with Hannah in stride, with a wry, occasionally world-weary humor. Here is an example:
"You're not supposed to talk," she complained.
"You're dead," Hannah explained.
"Darn it. How did that happen?"
"You were killed by a vampire."
"Okay!" (Chapter 1)
"She bent over and started searching for something on the floor. When she stood up, she had the bottle of garlic powder. She took the lid off. "We've got to be ready for anything."
Sure. No matter what happens, a person can take care of it with garlic power." (Chapter 1)
I also quite like Hannah's mother, Mrs. D. She gives the kids a fair bit of space to play their games, but she's right there paying attention, and ready to step in whenever things get out of hand. She is understanding but strict. It's nice to see a parent in a children's book who actually, well, parents. Which is not to say that Hannah and Brandon aren't able to manipulate her on rare occasions. But she still makes them wear their boots when they go out to play in the rain.
There's a great bit when the neighbor children are actually invited over to the house, a consequence of Brandon and Hannah having left the yard to rescue the cat earlier.
"Mrs. D. leaned down between Hannah and me and whispered, "See? When you leave the yard, bad things happen."
She didn't have to convince me. I felt as if I was in one of those TV shows where bad guys suddenly show up at your front door and start pushing their way into your house. There's nothing you can do to keep them out. You're doomed." (Chapter 4)
One other thing I like about this book is the way that Hannah's games are inspired by books. She initiates an elaborate game based on Pinocchio, for example. And at one point, she suggests:
"We could go into a closet that has a fake door in the back. When we go through the fake door, we'll be in a magic kingdom." (Chapter 2)
Joe Cepeda's illustrations add texture to the story. My favorite is one of the three robber children cackling over Buttercup. The children are clearly trouble, but the reader may also notice that the use of perspective makes Buttercup actually bigger than the kids. It seems to me that this is symbolic of Buttercup's larger than life personality. There's another illustration that features both the mother of the robber children and Hannah's mother, and their disparate expressions speak volumes.
A Girl, A Boy, and Three Robbers is a great book for new readers. There is drama and adventure, set against a safe neighborhood environment. Brandon, the narrator, demonstrates a self-contained sort of humor, while Hannah is a shining example of an imaginative child inspired by books. This is a book that will make kids laugh, and will show them first-hand how much fun reading can be. I'm also happy to see this coming out as the second book in the series, because kids at this reading level often want to read the next installment. Kudos to Gail Gauthier and Putnam for giving it to them. I hope that there will be more books in the series.
Afterword: Stay tuned for more about this book - I will be participating in Gail's blog tour on July 2nd. You can see the full line-up here. It's going to be a very well-organized tour, talking about early readers from a variety of perspectives.
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: July 3, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author.
See Also: My review of Happy Kid!, a title by Gail Gauthier for middle grade readers.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.