8.30.2008

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald, illustrations by Peter H Reynolds 102 pp RL 2



Megan McDonald has definitely left her mark on the world of children's books with her Judy Moody series, which debuted in 2000 and is now fifteen books strong. But what I will remember and value her for most is the brilliance of the her Stink series, which began in 2005. Stink, aka James Moody, is Judy's younger brother and his series of books is written at a lower reading level. And in this, they have stood out on the shelves of the chapter book section from day one. The format of the Stink series is markedly different from the super popular Junie B Jones and Magic Tree House chapter books. The font is larger, the trim size of the book itself is square rather than the traditional rectangular, the illustrations are more numerous (Stink draws a comic strip that ends each chapter!) and the page count is a bit shorter. This all adds up to what I consider to be the perfect Bridge Chapter Book that will carry your emerging reader from leveled readers to traditional chapter books. 

I enjoyed Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, the first book in the series, so much that I went on to Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker immediately and enjoyed it even more than the first book! The illustrations by Peter H Reynolds, a fabulous children's book author and illustrator in his own right (Sky Color, the dot, and ish) are the perfectly matched with the text, which makes sense since Reynolds illustrates the Judy Moody series. Peter H Reynolds is also the co-owner of The Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, MA. The Blue Bunny publishes the semi-annual Hutch: A Kids' Literary and Art Magazine which features stories, poems and art work by kids as well as contributions by Peter H Reynolds and other guest authors and illustrators. And, as if this wasn't enough, Peter is the president and creative director of FableVision Studios where he produces award-winning children's broadcast programming, educational videos, and multimedia applications.

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, short as it may be, is filled with many different plot threads. There is humor and name calling, done mostly by Judy, creating a believable sibling relationship and taking up a little less than half the story. Then there are Stink's school experiences, which, while on the whole were much more exciting and entertaining than anything I remember from my lower elementary school experience - or my kids' - nevertheless rang true. McDonald superbly captures the childhood feeling of "everything is wrong and nothing ever goes right for me," when Stink, who hates being the shortest kid in his class believes that he is shrinking. His teacher even reads a book (a real book - click the title for my review) called The Shrinking of Treehorn, about a boy who is getting smaller. The story swings to the elated feeling that everything is going just right when Stink gets to collect the milk for lunch AND is chosen to take home Newton, the class pet.


One part of the book that I must mention, and I feel like a huge alarmist for doing so, but I must, is when Judy accidentally drops Newton the Newt down the drain of the kitchen sink then, in an effort to have enough light to find him by, accidentally grinds him up in the garbage disposal. Maybe I am just a big baby about (accidental) cruelty to animals, maybe it is because I have been accessory to more than one accidental small animal death in my  years of parenting, maybe it is because I, as an adult know how the garbage disposal really works, but this scene REALLY disturbed me. I was merrily reading along and experienced a bit of concern when I saw the illustration of Newton, mid-air as he slipped from Judy's hands. But, I let out an audible gasp when I turned the page and saw the next illustration showing Judy reaching up and flipping a switch next to the sink and I rarely make audible sounds when reading anything, adult, kid or otherwise. Having flipped the wrong switch many a time, I knew what to expect but could not believe that McDonald would take that path. I went back and re-read the pages to make sure that it didn't really happen. But it did. Then I sped-read to the end of the book because, foolishly, I thought that Newton might not really be dead.


However, much, much much to Megan McDonald's credit, she deals with this event wonderfully. Perhaps because of the humorous tone of the books, as well as the age of the intended reader, Judy does not experience too much remorse for being the Hand of Death. She tells Stink it's part of the cycle of life (thank you, Lion King.) Stink does seem to be a little bit sad, but really, in my experience, most kids do not get that wrapped up in the death of a small pet. My son was practically indifferent when I broke the news to him that one of his two hermit crabs cannibalized the other then died two days later for obvious reasons. 

Getting back to McDonald's brilliant classroom writing, when Stink tells his teacher what happened on Monday morning, she very wisely suggests that they tell the class simply that Newton escaped. Then she has the class write stories about what they imagine Newton is up to now that he is "free in the world..." The kids in Stink's class are always writing, which as we all know is a crucial component of any education, and I love that McDonald is setting this example and making writing seem like the most natural, obvious thing that we as learners and humans can do. I can only hope that my youngest child has a second grade teacher who asks as much of him.

Another lovely component of McDonald's storytelling are the Moody parents, who play a small but important part in the book. Mrs Dempster, Stink's teacher, has begun teaching the class how to write letters. As part of a President's Day project, Stink chooses James Madison, the shortest President of the United States ever, for obvious reasons. As he learns about Madison, Stink is compelled to write a letter to the governor of Virginia to suggest that James Madison be on the state quarter, not ships. To cheer Stink up, his parents throw a surprise President's Day birthday party on the holiday complete with cupcakes and presents as well as a letter from the governor that includes a very special surprise.

I had no idea I had so much to say about this little book. It has made a very good impression on me and I recommend it highly. It would make a great read out loud but, because it is one of the rare, truly well written books at this reading level, encourage your children - boys or girls - to read the rest of the series on their own!


The Stink Series:












Readers who enjoyed this book might also like:

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon
Sticky Burr by John Lechner
The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman
Stuart Goes to School by Sarah Pennypacker
Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and The Great One by Judy Blume




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