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KA Silva – Here’s a News Flash for anyone who still thinks kids’ books are just for kids: Hardly. In fact, grown-ups are more likely to get the biggest laughs from Kirk Scroggs’ newest book than readers in its presumably-target tweener age group. Grown-ups, that is, who are ardent Muppaphiles!
Scroggs’ previous credits include an entire series of children’s books centered around “Wiley and Grampa,” a full listing of which can be easily found on Amazon.com, but his newest, “Tales of a Sixth-Grade Muppet,” is both a stand-alone story and an obvious tie-in to all things Muppety in honor of the upcoming film. Done in the part-text, part-cartoon narrative style made popular by the “Wimpy Kid” books, Scroggs proves he is wittier and a better artist than the author of that series, and draws laughs easily from any reader familiar with the Muppets. That said, don’t give this book to your 11-year-old nephew in the hopes that he’ll suddenly become a raving Muppet fan. The story presumes readers are already somewhat familiar with Kermit, Piggy, Muppet Labs, and of course the narrator’s hero, the Great Gonzo; but given that, any Muppet fan will find plenty to enjoy.
Although all of the Muppets are well written, the only character development takes place with the narrator, a sixth-grade outcast named Danvers Blickensderfer, who copies the insanely dangerous stunts of his idol Gonzo, ostracized by his classmates, harassed by his kid sister (“evil incarnate,” claims Danvers), incomprehensible to his parents, and wishing desperately to be a Muppet. Of course, this being both children’s literature and a Muppet book, he gets his wish, waking up one morning inexplicably Muppetized. However, enjoying the fuzziness and quick recovery time after injuries which all Muppets are privileged to doesn’t mean Danvers’ social life becomes any easier…
What really makes this book a blast are the cartoons. Scroggs combines not just text narrative and childish doodles (which are supposed to be Danvers’ own drawings) throughout the book, but frequently includes comic-book-style illustrations… and those are often the best jokes in a book full of good ones! Even the one-liners he tosses off in these drawings are hysterically funny: a running gag about his little sister Chloe’s obsession with the Fluffleberries (“the world’s most diabolical children’s TV celebrities”), a gag about his school lunch lady, Gladys, Beaker “Meep” jokes, a mock-Billboard Top 10 list of the hit songs by the boy-band group Emo Shun… The most admirable things about these casually tossed-off jokes within larger cartoons are how well the drawings flow in the narrative; rather than simply complementing the story, most of them are integral to it, and it works extremely well.
As far as the Muppets themselves go, Gonzo is the focus of Danvers’ attention, but Piggy gets plenty of time, as do Bunsen and Beaker, Pepe, Kermit, the Electric Mayhem, and the cast of “Veterinarian’s Hospital.” Other characters are featured several times, such as Rizzo, Sam the Eagle, Statler and Waldorf (who begin showing up, randomly heckling Danvers–guess that’s part of the whole territory of being a Muppet), Animal separately, Fozzie, and others. Almost everyone gets at least a cameo drawing, and the drawings are comic in all senses! Scroggs nails the persona of each Muppet he includes, even if they have only a few lines; it’s obvious within just the first couple of chapters that the author is a Muppet fan from way back, and whether kids or adults, he’s aimed this work at fellow fans who’ll get the in-jokes as well as the sillier ones.
There’s also a bit of satire: the aforementioned Emo Shun are antagonists of a sort, competing for fame alongside some of the Muppets in a “Fall on Ice” show, and every mention of the boy-band will tickle every hater of bland-as-white-bread teen pop singers. As an example, the list of hits garnered by Emo Shun includes such memorable tunes as “You Put My Heart in Detention, Girl” and “Girl, You Treated My Heart Like a Yo-Yo, Yo.” Piggy judging the entrants for the ice follies smacks highly of a certain ridiculously popular American talent show. The Fluffleberries movies are rated “G-5: Viewing this film could cause irreversible brain damage to anyone over the age of 5.” Though such snickers aren’t major plot points, they assuredly raise a grin and add to the entire atmosphere of the story.
Danvers, for all his social-outcast status, is nevertheless a witty observer of modern pop culture–something I believe is integral to Muppet fans in general, as the humor of Henson and Co often relied on the juxtaposition of social mores with absurd parodies of those same superficial “values.” It’s clear the Muppets strongly influenced Kirk Scroggs’ outlook on life, and he does tribute to them extremely well… even in a book marketed for kids.
Dozens of Muppets, hundreds of good jokes and witty drawings, a main character every Muppet lover can identify with, an unexpected ending. Four out of five stars (only because I wished for a little more depth to the plot). Check it out!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org