Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Judy Moody and Stink

Titles:  Judy Moody (11 titles, plus tie-in items)
           Stink (7 titles, plus tie-ins)

Author:  Megan McDonald

Rating:  0 stars out of 3 possible ("D" or "F")
            Not Recommended

Audience:  2nd-4th Grades

I've often thought of developing two rating systems in life, even as I talk about movies or restaurants with my husband and friends.  It goes like this:  "Well, if you're a picky person, it was a disappointment.  But if you're not too picky, it was okay."

This is mirrored by my husband's more easy-going temperament.  If you ask him how a particular diner or pub visit fared, he'll usually say, "It was good." or, our personal favorite:  "I enjoyed it."

Not, "it was fantastic," or "I loved it!"

Now, if I'm going to spend my time and money on something, I like to hope it will be at least above average or, hoping against hope, excellent.  Whenever my husband says something was "good," not only do I know it was not great, I probably wouldn't even think it was average!  This works out pretty slick, because I don't have to go to a restaurant or movie until Steve says it was great!  Then I'm pretty much guaranteed a good and possibly great return on my investment.

So, my reaction to Judy Moody and her brother Stink is:  If you're a picky person, you'll be disappointed.  But if you're not too picky, you'll think it was okay.

How can I say this and not be labeled elitist or overly critical?  I realize a lot of people enjoy things that, try as I might, I can't.  I didn't ask to be born picky.  Sometimes I even wish I wasn't.  But God made me this way, and even though I've tried to change, it seems to be my cross to bear.  I've wrestled with this ever since middle school, and at times I have more self-control over it, but always this desire to think independently burns within me.  In light of this personal struggle, please bear with me as I try to walk gracefully through the positives and negatives of Judy Moody and her brother Stink.

In a nutshell, Judy Moody is essentially a 9 year-old Junie B. Jones, but actually not as funny.  To prep this review, I read 3 of "her" books over the course of about 3 hours.

Judy Moody Gets Famous had positive elements including an intact and supportive family, dealing with envy, and exploring friendship with an unlikely rival.  In the end, Judy is able to control her infamous moods and even performs a great act of generosity by making an anonymous donation.  It was a pretty encouraging read, but I knew better than to trust one example out of a series.  Experience has taught me as a series ages, the author becomes a little more desperate for material and goes for weak plots and repetitive devices for easy laughs and entertainment.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer was a particularly glaring example of this type of disappointment.  Additionally, it was written as a novel based off the movie screenplay--even less quality material to work from.

In this book, the slang and superficiality of Judy's life begins to take over.  And the plot becomes ever more unbelievable.   The plot premise has a lot of fun potential-how to have a fun summer with your hippie aunt while your friends are off to circus camp and Borneo.

But if Aunt Opal really served in the Peace Corps and trekked across the Sahara Desert and live on Bali, wouldn't she have some creative plans for Judy and Stink?  And possibly know how to drive a car without exclaiming "Holy...crap!"

Fun plans for the summer deteriorate to a Cemetery Creep-n-Crawl to look for zombies, an Evil Creature Double Feature at the local theater, and the slightly more satisfying search for BigFoot.  Along the way there a lot of "puke" at an amusement park, as well some "butt," "poop" and "boogers."

Judy Moody Goes to College confirmed my suspicions that picky families will want to prepare their children for real world before the age of 18.  Get ready for discussions about piercings, yoga, peace rallies, superstitions and vegetarians.  I have no problem talking about controversial opinions--I just need to know when and where they're showing up, and sometimes you don't expect them in a 3rd grade children's book.

On the positive side, Judy is again dealing with her moods (creating a board game where positive attitudes are rewarded), as well as her math grades while learning commitment and practice.  Some of the slang and situations are funny (ridonkulus, rare, crucial, uber, and the Moody-Family-Favorite, a slightly sarcastic "hardee-har-har"), but these increasingly get eclipsed by others (sick-awesome, mad-nasty, and a near-visit to the live-nude sketching class at college).

Stink books, of which I read 2 in about 45minutes, are a little less mad-nasty, or is that a little more?  I get confused.  Oh, by the way, your young reader might get confused, too, because the colloquialisms are not particularly phonics-friendly ("vomitocious," "holey-tamoley," "piggly-wiggly wedgie").  My personal favorite is the metaphor for boring:  "snore pie with yawn sauce."  Now, Megan McDonald, that was funny!  More, please.

Hard to say to which audience these books are aimed, because if your child is a really good reader, you might want them picking something with more vocabulary challenge.  But if you want to hook a struggling reader, these books have odd, complicated words like "Venerable Yuuto Kashiwagi," and then you might be stuck with them as read-alouds.  Then again, if you do read-alouds, the occasional meditation and animal-rights scenes won't take your child by surprise.

In sum, Judy Moody and Stink were a disappointment for me, a mixed bag at best.  But you might feel they've earned a C-minus, particularly if they help you get your non-reader reading and you keep a light sense of humor.  I tend to think there are better ways to hook non-readers (Junie B. Jones?  Ramona and Henry?  Bad Kitty?  Geronimo Stilton?).

But then again, I'm picky.  I admit it.

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