Recently I was hanging out with my friend Liz, who has a son my son's age. We were talking about books for our boys, how hard it is to find books for them. We rattled off the usual suspects: The Magic Tree House Books (Dinosaurs Before Dark is the first, but there are like a million more) which are beloved of teachers for being so educational, and aren't as boring as that would imply; Diary of a Wimpy Kid and sequels, which are beloved of precocious 7-year-olds, but maybe slightly annoying in their reinforcement of early onset middle-schooler slouchery; Captain Underpants, trashy fun; Franny K. Stein's Crate of Danger, less trashy fun...
Then we sort of ran out of ideas. The problem is that while I occasionally dabble in YA - a genre which seems to be just brimming with interesting stuff these days - I almost never willingly pick up something aimed at 8-12 year olds. Add in the fact that while the boy is reading at an older than 7-year-old level in a nuts-and-bolts linguistic way, he is not actually older than seven, so plenty of things that he can read he can't read
. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc, he can read these, but they're just not that interesting because thematically, they're above him.
So, a certain brilliant Tomato I know mailed the boy some books, and I finally started through them. Reading a novel aimed at TEH CHILDREN is still a novel, and requires a commitment of time I am normally resentful of - I could be selfishly reading things about zombies and not engaging with my kids. But yay! This was hilarious fun, and totally worth it.
Steve Brixton is a 12-year-old kid who is obsessed with a series of pulp detective novels for children, which sound like a cross between Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys. He falls into an entirely ridiculous plot involving a McGuffin Quilt (wink), a place called The Red Herring (wink), and other tomfoolery. Burnett throws in enough winks to amuse me, adult reader, with things like a character description of someone as "a nasty, brutish and short man" and jokes about the word "chum", but he never loses sight of the fact that he's writing for children. It's a tough line to walk, I think, and the world is littered with annoying failures like the later Schrek movies. Burnett isn't playing to me, he's playing to the kids, and that is the best thing about it.
(Also, random thought: I looooooved the Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid - Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective being the first - and my husband and I went into a big reverie about them - how we could never ever solve them, wondering what the heck was up with the weird crown Jughead hat that the nemesis wore. Seriously, what is up with that hat? I told Richard I wanted to time travel back and give him this book - Steve, for example, has a book with a secret compartment in it, a concept which makes Richard's eyes roll back in his head even now. Richard then went on about how he'd use time travel for more lucrative ends, but he is not a book romantic like me.)
Also, the art by Adam Rex is great. I'm already on record as being a ridiculous fan-girl when it comes to Rex - so much so that I drunkenly sent him a friend request here on Goodreads. He graciously accepted, and I'm hoping he's not on often enough to see my embarrassing squee about how much I love his art.