Brilliant! Just Brilliant! That's what Mega Mash-Ups are! The minute my seven year old got his hands on Aliens vs MAD Scientists Under the Ocean he grabbed a pencil and got busy. I have never seen him remain dedicated to a singular project (that does not involve electronic media) for so long! For that, I thank you, Misters Catlow and Wesson!
The premise of this series of books (there are three now, more to come) is genius. Catlow, creator of a few of the really great doodle books that have hit the shelves lately (Do You Doodle? and Oodles of Doodles and Doodle Bugs) illustrates a story, which I'm guessing Wesson helps to write. The reading level is somewhere around second grade, though there is not as much text as in a Captain Underpants book, if that means anything to you. I'd say the amount of text in this book is more akin to Dav Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta books. The unique part of these stories is that every page leaves blank space for the reader to fill in the illustrations on the page. Most pages require that the story be read before the illustrations can be added, making it a bit like medicine that comes with a spoon full of sugar. Of course, adding illustrations to these books has infinitely more educational value than sugar does nutritional value. The page above is a perfect example of the way these books work.
And, as you can see by the spread above, the illustrations sometimes require the reader to add dialogue as well! But, to make this all work the stories have to be good, as do the illustrations. Catlow and Wesson score high marks in this area as well. Clearly, these books are aimed at boys, although I'm sure girls will gravitate to them as well (why is it always the girls who are expected to like everything but we only ask boys to take interest in stereotypically boy pursuits. In the 50s no one expected girls to like monsters and trucks, but now we do. When will we naturally expect the same diversity from boys? More on this later...) Besides the brilliant concept of a doodle-story, the authors throw mash-ups into the mix, along with a fantastic website (Mega Mash-up.com) where kids can share their drawings. Aliens are great, but aliens and mad scientists under the ocean are even better. Robots? How about robots and gorillas in the desert! Dinosaurs? Naturally they'd be fighting Romans on Mars. Best of all, Catlow the artist wants to encourage the young artists reading his book. The first two pages of every book introduce the characters while the next two pages introduce the drawing tools necessary (pen, pencil, crayon) AND give examples of nine different textures (crayon rubbing on the floor, crayon rubbing on wood floor, pencil rubbing from wooden door, pencil dashes, scribbly pencil) that the reading-artist can use to fill in the blanks. On top of all that, the books end with a Picture Glossary that gives the reader-artists ideas on how else they can fill in those blanks. Like I said at the start of this review, brilliant, just brilliant! Thank you, Mr Catlow and Mr Wesson, for adding these fantastic new books to the frequently dreary world of beginning chapter books!!