Tom Angleberger has to be the greatest author to come along in a while when it comes to writing books for kids who just don't want to tackle the 400 page fantasy novels that have been so popular for the last decade or more. His books The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda and the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back are excellent alternatives to Diary of a Wimpy Kid for those of you who don't want your young readers to dip their toes into that pond. For those of you with kids already hooked on Jeff Kinney's series, Angleberger's books are perfect (although much better, in my humble opinion) for fans of the Wimpy Kid series. Then, there is Angleberger's fantastically funny Horton Halfpott OR The Fiendish Mystery of Smudgwick Manor OR The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset, a historical romp packed with characters with Dickensian names and Monty Python-esque proclivities and a mystery, too. Angleberger's books are all under 200 pages, sometimes silly, sometimes sweet and always out of the ordinary and always worth reading. His newest adventure, Fake Mustache, illustrated by the very talented Jen Wang definitely fits this bill! For more about Jen's (mostly adult) work, see the bottom of this review.
The very long subtitle (an Angleberger trait?) for Fake Mustache is as follows and sets up the story perfectly: How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind. The book begins with our first narrator, Lenny Flem Jr, accompanying his best buddy, Casper Bengue to Sven's Fair Price store in downtown Hairsprinkle so that Casper can spend his birthday money. Casper's parents are hippie-types who don't believe in television or other unnecessary things, so his Nanna Nookums gives him money each year and instructs him to buy something completely unnecessary. This year, she sent him $400 to buy a PlayStation. Not having a television, Casper decides to buy the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven, a very expensive, handmade fake mustache and a man-about-town suit to go with it. Unbeknownst to Casper, the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven (which costs $129.99) happens to have been "woven from the hairs of a very bad man who gave up his mustache unwillingly." In fact, it was ripped from the face of a professional assassin, "famous in the European underworld for his perfect record of three hundred kills and his perfect mustache. Then he was betrayed by a beautiful woman and arrested. When he arrived at prison, the shaved his mustache."
Straight away, Lenny notices that something is up with Casper. Banks are being robbed, sometimes by strolling accordion players, librarians, children's party clowns or mimes and a shortish man-about-town with a handlebar mustache calling himself Fako Mustacho seems to be positioning himself for a run for president. Meanwhile, Lenny finds bags of loot in Casper's bedroom and Casper keeps texting Lenny to explain his absences from trick-or-treating, curling practice and the like. When Lenny phones in an anonymous tip about Casper, he becomes outcast number one, also known by all of Fako Mustacho's hench-people as Evil One. Lenny decides to disguise himself, go on the run and get to the bottom of this funny business. The only costume he can afford is a Jodie O'Rodeo outfit that includes a wig with pink pigtails, a cowgirl hat and pink and white cowgirl skirt and vest. In the brilliant chapter 6, the reader gets all the details on Jodie and her Jodie O'Rodeo Showdeo, which is watched avidly by Lenny's little sisters and with mild interest by Lenny himself. After all, Jodie is cute and she sure can yodel. Jodie is a preteen cowgirl queen and a four page excerpt from a script from the show makes her seem a heck of a lot like Hannah Montana. But, instead of a secret life as a pop star, Jodie is a yodeling rodeo star who often rides her horse, Soymilk, into the mall to stop thieves and prevent her boyfriend from buying an Orange Julius for some other girl. As fascinating as Fake Mustache is, if feel like it really takes off when, near the second half of the book, Lenny meets Jodie and the two join forces to defeat Fako since she seems to be the only other person who believes he's a kid and not a short power-monger.
Part II of Fake Mustache is narrated by Jodie and she is a smart thinking, fast acting gal who helps Lenny out of some pretty weird scrapes. The two end up trapped in the factory and warehouses of the Heidelberg Novelty Company. This means that an escape route through an obstacle course that includes a jump into a vat of fake snot, a ride in a box filled with confetti and the final destination of a storage room filled with "President Fako! T-shirts, sweatpants, hats and more. The climactic scene in the book involves Soymilk, an Ultra-Sticky-Stretchy-Grabber-Hand and a mad sort-of-Frenchman with a gun pointed at the new president, thanks to rigged voting machines, Fako. Angelberger packs this book with more weird names, strange objects and every day stuff than I can even begin to share here. Needless to say, this is a VERY fun book to read and one kids will probably even want to read twice!
Readers who enjoyed Fake Mustache should definitely check out Andrea Beaty and Dan Santat's wickedly funny Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies!
More about Jen Wang:
Koko Be Good by Jen Wang caught my eye as I was shelving in the graphic novel section a year or so ago. Aimed at teens and adults, her debut graphic novel (she has contributed volumes 1 and 2 of Kazu Kibuishi's excellent Flight graphic novel anthologies, which also exist in kid-friendly editions titled, Explorer) Koko Be Good is the story of the free-spirited, self-centered Koko who's encounter with Jon, a pretty reserved college graduate trying to tie up the loose ends of his life before he joins his girlfriend who is working in Peru, changes both their lives. Set in San Francisco, the scenery is immediately recognizable, especially if you are young, Koko Be Good is so rich with detail and plot that you feel like you've watched a movie or read a traditional novel by the time it's over. While I love kid's graphic novels, I have read a handful of adult books and am amazed and impressed every time. Koko Be Good was one of the first I read and it will always stick in my mind.