Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The True Meaning of Smekday and The Willoughbys

Leftover from my pre-Thanksgiving high stress-level days, I have two more books from the Young Adult and Junior book bin. These books were ones I had really looked forward to reading because the premises for both appealed to me, but are polar opposites from each other. Lois Lowry, prolific author over many decades of award-winning writing wrote The Willoughbys and Adam Rex, writer of such bizarre books like Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake, wrote The True Meaning of Smekday. Lowry is a standard in the world of children's and young adult novels. Who hasn't read The Giver? Adam Rex is, frankly, weird and has a crazy sense of humor, which you'll notice if you ever read the poetry in his Frankenstein books. The poems are about monsters from the old monster movies many a decade ago. You know, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, all the gang. I thoroughly enjoy the poems because I've watched so many of those movies and had a bit of a fascination with the monsters when I was young, but my children were baffled and unamused by them. Even though I liked the Frankenstein books, I thought The True Meaning of Smekday was far and above better than anything Rex had done previously. I loved both of these books, but let's start with Rex's.

The True Meaning of Smekday is about the end of the world as we know it and the apocolypse couldn't be any funnier. The narrator is 11-year-old Gratuity Tucci, whose mother was abducted by aliens mere moments before the aliens arrived and took over the world. The Boov are octopus-like creatures who good-naturedly have the entire population of the United States relocate to Florida. Until they realize how much they like oranges and send everybody to Arizona instead. Gratuity befriends one of the aliens, who calls himself J.Lo, and travels in a Boov-sooped-up car across the country to try and find her mom in Arizona. In the meantime, you find out that J.Lo is wanted by his people because of a small mistake he made that brought to Earth another race of aliens called The Takers who are not as good-natured as the Boov. This book made me laugh over and over again. Gratuity (called Tip by her friends) is funny, witty, sometimes a weensy bit crass, and very inventive. J.Lo becomes more and more human as the book progresses and by the end you can't help but love him. It is the perfect book to read this month, but I won't tell you why. I'll just remind you that Smekday is fast approaching. Go check out the website for the book and come back and tell me you didn't laugh when you watched the educational puppet show video.

The Willoughbys is a parody of every book about a winsome and lovable orphan that pulls themselves up by their bootstraps and charms everyone's heart. In fact, the literary references are spattered all over the place and there's a list of books referred to at the end. The Willoughby children, Tim, twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B, and Jane are disliked by their parents and the feeling is mutual. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby decide to go on vacation and sell the house while they're gone, getting rid of the children in the process. The children are more than happy about that arrangement and find that the nanny hired to care for them is a good substitution. There's also a depressed billionaire who comes into the story, a tiny village in the Alps and a little boy who pretends to speak German. For example, he greets the postman with "Helloschlimhofen, neisch day, isn't itzenschlitz?" He too is despised by his parents and crosses paths with the Willoughbys. I laughed out loud over and over again while reading this book and half of those laughs were in the glossary at the end. Lowry uses words like acquisition, diabolical, ignominious, and obfuscate in the book and then explains what they mean, in her own words, in the glossary. I was wiping the tears of laughter away at that point. After reading this book, I wondered how long Lowry has wanted to mock the likes of Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna and Heidi. I'm sure glad she did.

Believe it or not, but my December is looking much less crazy than my November was, so I'm looking forward to diving into some great reading. If it will be anything like Smekday and The Willoughbys, it will be a jolly holiday indeed.


  1. Oh, those sound like fun reads! Just what I need for a busy month!

  2. Hmm, scratch that. Our library has failed me!

  3. I LOVED this book too. I didn't read it but I got the book on CD & listened to it with the kids while I car pooled each day. The kids enjoyed it but I am sure they didn't get all of the irony/sarcasm. Having it read aloud made it fun to listen to and the Glossary was a HOOT! I think that everybody should read this!