Neal Layton's The Mammoth Academy is a heavily illustrated, over-the-top title aimed at early elementary school kids. Here's how it begins:
"Oscar was a woolly mammoth, and so was Arabella. They lived a long time ago in the Ice Age.
They used to spend their time making ice sculptures, exploring caves, and doing all the other things that young mammoths like to do. But there comes a point in a young mammoth's life when it's time to grow up a little bit and start school."
The reader quickly learns that Oscar is scruffy and irresponsible, while Arabella is tidy and well-suited to school. (I wonder if Oscar is a bit of a take-off on the Odd Couple). We see Arabella's tidy copy of the map of their school, in contrast to Oscar's stained and crumpled version. At school, Oscar makes friends and has a good time. Soon, however, he discovers the mysterious tracks of some dangerous, thieving two-legged creatures. Could they be human?
Mammoth Academy bears some resemblance to a graphic novel. The illustrations are essential to the story, featuring call-outs, numbered instructions, and sketched examples of what's being discussed in the text. The sketches are black-and-white and highly kid-friendly, with many looking like doodles that a bored kid would make in class. A few others are much more sophisticated, looking digitally rendered, offering a nice contrast.
Layton offers up humor, ranging from subtle to obvious, on nearly every page. Some things that particularly caught my eye:
On the "Very Important Letter" about what to bring to school, "6. One or two pairs of ice skates (depending on how many feet you have)".
When the kids learn about humans in school, they see examples of what human footprints are like, and what their droppings look like (ok, it doesn't engage me, but I think it's quite early-elementary-school-boy-friendly).
The kids also have a lesson about how cliffs can be dangerous, illustrated by a sketch of a mammoth tumbling head-first off of a small cliff.
And, of course, the central fact of the humans in the story being the uncivilized savages, while the animals are attending school, and eating fruit so that they don't get the sniffles. What kid wouldn't enjoy that?
In short, Mammoth Academy is a delightfully illustrated, highly entertaining romp, sure to please early readers (especially boys). The author's website suggests that sequels are forthcoming.
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Pickled Bananas (an authentic kid's perspective from an 8-year-old blogger)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.