Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Review of Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett Krosoczka

Graphic novels are still a fairly young genre, and graphic novels for children are newer still. Some graphic novels for teens are based on existing Young Adult titles (Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series, for example); fewer are original series (e.g., Holly Black's new urban fantasy creation, Kin). For younger readers, the Babymouse books by Jennifer and Matthew Holm are the most solid entry so far. A few book series with strong visual elements, most notably Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants titles and Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid plus sequels, have also charmed readers. Now author-illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka of Punk Farm fame has entered the fray with his series starter, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. (I have yet to get my hands on the companion volume, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians.)

Obviously, the very best thing about this series is that Krosoczka chose a lunch lady for his undercover superhero. That made me laugh even before I discovered related details such as weaponry. In a brief scene before the title page (comparable to the scene before the opening credits roll in a movie), we see two bank robbers being stopped by a heroic figure on a motorcycle that has a sloppy joe button. Yep, it's hard to get away when your van is sliding around on a wave of sloppy joe filling.

The child characters in the book are a trio of average kids: Hector, Terrence, and Dee. When they are bothered by the school bully, Milmoe, a new substitute teacher saves the day—but there's something very strange about the sub, and soon Lunch Lady is trying to figure out just what he's up to. She is assisted by another lunch lady named Betty, who is like James Bond's gadget guy, Q.

The kitchen humor continues with a hidden lab behind a fridge and gadgets made out of things like spatulas, not to mention weapons formed from fish sticks. One of my favorite pages is a view of the spy screens in Lunch Lady's lab, which show what the teachers are doing. For instance, we learn that "Mr. Johnson is reciting poetry" to his class. Of course, the poem he is reciting begins, "Beans, beans, good for your heart..." before trailing off to be completed by amused readers.

Considering the title, you will not be shocked to discover that the substitute turns out to be a robot. What's fun to follow is how Lunch Lady figures this out and what she does about it. Meanwhile, our intrepid trio of kids have begun to spy on her. This, of course, allows them to participate in the obligatory climactic fight scene.

Lunch Lady herself is a delightful creation. Her cuss words in tense moments are vegetables: "Sweet potato!" and "Cauliflower!" When she tails the villain, she says, "I'm on him like cheese on macaroni!" L.L. is brave and knows some great fight moves, but she is also dedicated to providing school meals—a satisfyingly surreal combination.

The Babymouse books have an inherent sweetness, and so does Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. The humor is goofy and lovable, the trio of children are ordinary enough to represent Everyreader, and the fight scenes are tongue in cheek. I'm very happy to see another graphic novel series served up in the children's book cafeteria. There's no mystery meat here: second and third graders are going to eat these up!

1 comment:

storyqueen said...

I am a big fan of JJK and I can't wait to read the Lunch Lady! Thanks for doing the review and giving info.