The Terrible Two: Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell
December 11, 2014
Book: The Terrible Two
Authors: Mac Barnett and Jory John
Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
Age Range: 8-12
The Terrible Two is a new prank and joke-filled illustrated chapter book by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell. While not a notebook novel, it is clearly aimed straight at the audience of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (and from the same publisher). Based on my reading The Terrible Two, I think that it's going to be a success. It is funny from cover to cover.
The primary protagonist in The Terrible Two is Miles, new student at the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy in the cow-filled small town of Yawnee Valley. Miles was known as the school prankster at his old school. But his hopes of taking on this role at his new school are dashed when he arrives on the first day to find a car blocking the school's front door. The identity of the Yawnee Valley prankster is unknown to Miles, at least for a while, though clever readers will spot a clue on the book's cover.
The Terrible Two is written with a strong slant towards humor. Everything is either wryly tongue-in-cheek or overtly funny. Despite this (and here is why I think that the book will be a success), there is also a fairly strong, linear plot. There is a pair of father and son antagonists, who get a satisfactory comeuppance. The central relationship of the book is between Miles and his pranking counterpart. Other relationships, including those between the boys and their respective parents, are minimal, but this is ok. The focus stays on The Terrible Two.
Here are some snippets, to give you a feel for the book's tone:
"This is Miles Murphy. He's on his way to Yawnee Valley. Let's take a closer look at his face.
Notice the scowl. Notice the gloom. Notice the way his face is pressed against the window and he looks like he's trying to escape." (Chapter 2)
"He ate breakfast: oatmeal on toast, a dish his great-grandfather had invented and deemed "The Breakfast of Barkins." This gave him exactly six minutes to reread his favorite chapter of his favorite book, The 7 Principles of Principal Power." (He being the school principal, of course. Chapter 5)
"Miles had never even heard of before-school detention. Technically, that wasn't even detention. You had to be at school already to be detained. What would you call it? Prevention. Apprehension. Incarceration." (Chapter 27)
There are also assorted facts about cows included at intervals throughout the book, one of which does become a key plot point.
Although heavily illustrated, the length, complexity of the plot and relatively advanced vocabulary ("deemed", "despondently") make this feel more like middle grade than an early chapter book. But the illustrations, as well as various lists, letters, etc., make The Terrible Two accessible for relatively reluctant readers (not to mention the prank-filled plot, of course).
Cornell's cartoon-like illustrations are well-suited to the book. They are highly dynamic, spread in various locations across the pages, and frequently featuring movement by and emotions of the characters. Readers will see Principal Barkins at a bad guy from his very first appearance on the page. The acerbic facial expression of a long-suffering teacher also made me laugh, and added to my understanding of this relatively minor character. There are maps, plans, and dioramas, and, of course, cows.
All in all, I think that The Terrible Two is going to be a huge hit with third grade readers or so, especially (though not limited to) boys. It is also funny without being crude, which will likely please adults, too. Part of the Prankster's Oath, helpfully spelled out, involves disrupting but not destroying. The Terrible Two stays on the right side of mischievous. I hope to see additional books about The Terrible Two. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Amulet Books (@AbramsKids)
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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