I've enjoyed Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Lunch Lady series of graphic novels for elementary school kids (see reviews of prior books here and here). They're excellent escapist reading, featuring a crime-fighting school lunch lady and her gadget-inventing sidekick, Betty. My grandmother was actually a school lunch lady at one time, so I have a special fondness for this premise. Lunch Lady is no-so-ably assisted by the efforts of three friends known as The Breakfast Bunch. This week I read books #4 (Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown) and #5 (Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit) of the series.
Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown finds Lunch Lady, Betty, and the three Breakfast Bunch kids all attending the same two-week summer camp. This is a bit of a departure for the series (generally set in a school). But not to worry, Breakfast Bunch nemesis Milmoe and his minion are at the camp, too. Things get off to a scary start when one of the counselors is attacked by "the terrible swamp monster." Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch independently take it upon themselves to investigate (and naturally save the day).
I actually didn't care for this one as much as I have the others in the series. It felt a bit like a Scooby Doo episode for me, and I had to flip back and forth to keep track of the various new characters (camp counselors, directors, etc.). But it's still a fun read. We find Lunch Lady and Betty "Salisbury-staking out the pond", and undertaking explorations using "an Underwater Bendy-Straw Breathing Apparatus and an Underwater Mixer-Propulsion Backpack".
There's also a fun cameo by an over-the-top arts and crafts instructor ("Become one with your clay pots!" "Knead the clay, love the clay!"). My favorite character is the sole girl in the Breakfast Bunch, Dee, who reacts cynically to her peppy counselor ("This is all so lame...") and air-headed bunkmates. The contrast between the conversation in the boys vs. girls cabins is also entertaining (fart jokes vs. discussions of cute male counselors). Authentic if perhaps a trifle over the top.
In any event, kids seem to love it. Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown received this year's Children's Choice Award for Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year (Krosoczka also won last year's award in this category).
In Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, everyone is back at school and excited for a bake sale/fundraiser. Until, that is, the baked goods are stolen. Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch investigate a variety of leads before closing in on the culprit. It's possible that I liked this one better than the Summer Camp Shakedown because it includes the school's cranky janitor, one of my favorite characters. I love his Boston accent ("Theyah the bane of my existence", "I'll be cleanin' them up fah weeks") and his grouchiness.
There's more classic Lunch Lady rhetoric, like "It's as dark as the inside of a chocolate doughnut in here!", and "Porridge!" and "Brussels sprouts!" as expressions of disgust. And of course there are inventions, like the "Mac & Cheese cannon". I also love this from the end of the book (not a spoiler): "Justice is served!" say Betty and Lunch Lady. "And baked goods!" adds Hector.
The Lunch Lady books are perfect for third or fourth graders, including reluctant/dormant readers. They are fun, action-packed, over-the-top fare, while staying true to the day-to-day issues of elementary school kids. Krosoczka's black, white, and yellow illustrations are boy-and-girl-friendly, and excellent crutches for relatively new readers. Highly recommended, and a must-have for libraries.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 11, 2010 (#4) and December 28, 2010 (#5)
Source of Book: Review copies from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).