3.13.2009

The Spoon in the Bathroom Wall by Tony Johnston, 144pp RL 2


I discovered Tony Johnston's The Spoon in the Bathroom Wall when I was cruising around cover illustrator Brett Helquist's fabulous site and am happy I did. My only complaint is that I wish there was some of Helquist's unique illustrations inside the book to go along with Johnston's animated, humorous writing.

A spoof on the King Arthur legend with a nod to T.H. White and his brilliant version of the tale, The Once and Future King in the dedication, Johnston's book is so much more than the story of a sword in a stone, or, in this case, a spoon in the bathroom wall. The book begins with a Langston Hughes poem:

    Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

This is the glue that holds Martha Snapdragon and her father Luther together and keeps them going. Even though Luther can never remember the exact words of the poem, he and Martha tell each other to "hold fast," and this manages to get them through some dark days and tight spots. And things are dark. Luther Snapdragon is the janitor at Horace E Bloggins School and he and Martha, who is the star student there, live in the noisy, dank boiler room in the school's basement. The principal, Dr Klunk, (rhymes with junk), "rhymes with" being a frequent silly extra that Johnston throws into the story) is a power hungry egomaniac worthy of a Lemony Snicket novel who is always out to get Luther and Martha. Rufus Turk is the school bully who also has it in for Martha. One day when he is teasing her and calling her "Marthur," Dr Klunk passes by and joins in the teasing. The name sticks and a hero is born, but not without the help of the school's science teacher, Ferlin, and her magic bag of tricks.

As Martha struggles to make it through the day she notices a saying etched into the school's brick wall: The King is Coming - And It's About Time. This is followed by the appearance of a bejeweled wooden spoon named X-Cauliflower, sticking out of the boy's bathroom wall and another cryptic message: Whoso pulleth this spoon from this wall is the rightwise King of all Bloggins. How Marthur gets the spoon out of the wall and the obstacles she has to overcome to do it make for a great story that any reader, boy or girl, will enjoy. And, if you're lucky, they may even become interested in the real Legend of King Arthur! And, when your kids read this book, be sure to ask them if they caught the spoof of Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd's classic, Goodnight Moon, at the start of chapter xii that begins, "In the science room there was a telephone. And a red baboon. And a picture of - George Washington. And there were three antbears sitting in chairs..."

If your reader likes this book, you might suggest:

Dragon Slayer's Academy by Kate McMullan
Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page by Richard Platt and Chris Riddell




2 comments:

Jeremy said...

I couldn't stand The Series of Unfortunate Events. I think I kept waiting for something good to happen. Anything. A glimmer of hope, maybe...I just found it too grim. The wordplay was fine, but seemed too self-referential for my tastes...but really I just found it too depressing, to the point where I didn't care what happened in the story any more.

Tanya said...

I agree. You summed up my thoughts in a few neat sentences. Really, "The Spoon" is only similar to SOUE in passing...