The Blurb On The Back:
Melvin and Rhubarb love a good mystery.
Unfortunately, nothing ever happens in their boring old town.
Until the Donut Hole Monsters turn up …
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Melvin Pebble, his annoying older sister Violet and his parents have just moved from Hokum City to Donut Island, a small island where nothing much ever really happens.
Melvin is excited by the move because he now has a chance to become a cool kid rather than hang about with losers like his old friends in Hokum City and is determined to join the Cool Doods – Hector Frisbee, Dirk Measles and Marjorie Pinecone, who rule the roost at Donut Junior School. As he works out how best to win them over, he hangs out with his next door neighbour, Rhubarb Plonsky and Yoshi Fujikawa who run their own newspaper called The Daily Donut, which is dedicated to reporting on the weird mysteries that keep happening on Donut Island. The only problem is that the mysteries aren’t that mysterious and also aren’t particularly interesting.
Everything changes when the Donut Diner starts giving away little monster toys in their donuts. There are 50 to collect and when Hector becomes obsessed with getting them all, Melvin sees his way to get into the Cool Doods. The only problem is that the other children are also getting obsessed with the monster toys and something weird seems to happen when the monsters get put together …
Jim Smith’s self-illustrated humour book for children aged 8+ (the first in a series) is an entertaining, silly affair that sends up both the desire to be cool and to find mysteries where there are not. It takes a while to get going and there are a number of typos in the text, which is disappointing, but it’s not as cruel as Smith’s BARRY LOSER SERIES and focuses on the importance of genuine friendship and as such, I would happily read more.
I had previously read the first in Smith’s BARRY LOSER SERIES, which had the same silly sense of humour as this book but – for me – was quite cruel and lacked any heart or warmth. The big plus of this book is that it doesn’t have those issues – the story is really about the importance of genuine friendship and although I didn’t like the way Melvin can so casually badmouth his Hokum City friends just because his sister does, the book does show how he learns from that and grows as a character.
The plot does take a while to get going as Smith puts in a lot of background about Melvin’s family and their quirky hobbies (some of which is important for later developments) and then giving details about Rhubarb’ and Yoshi’s newspaper and investigations and some previous spooky events on the island (again, some of which is important for later developments). However, once the action moves to the Donut Diner and their toy giveaway, events start to move at a better pace.
I enjoyed Melvin’s relationship with the friendly Rhubarb and Smith does well at showing how Melvin hangs out with her while simultaneously looking for an ‘in’ with the Cool Doods. He does a nice job of satirising what being “cool” means here by allowing the reader to see for themselves how rude and mean the Doods are but also how insecure they all are in their own status with Dirk and Marjorie constantly trying to keep Hector happy and being jealous of anyone he shows favour to. Also good is how Melvin slowly begins to question his own desire to be cool and what the impact of his behaviour is on the feelings of Rhubarb and Yoshi.
I enjoyed Smith’s signature cartoonish illustration style and the way he uses his illustrations to add to the narrative and the silly humour that runs throughout the story (and I mean that in a good way), which the target audience should enjoy. Unfortunately I did spot a number of typos and mistakes in the text layout, which did take me out of the action each time (not Smith’s fault at all but you’d think the publisher would have spotted it before publication).
All in all though, I thought this was a fun read that those aged 8+ will enjoy. I would definitely be happy to check out other books in this series.