Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
Girl in the Blue Coat
Defy the Stars

Monday, January 9, 2012

To Read, or Not to Read

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.Or a few minutes of your time as I share with you my thoughts on the two Smackdown books I read over the holidays.

The first, Kill Shakespeare, created by the team of Anthony Del Col, Connor McCreery, Andy B, Ian Herring and Kagan McLeod, is  a fun little romp in the world of what if.  What if Shakespeare was the ultimate wizard?  What if Richard the III, Iago and Lady Macbeth were pals bent on destroying this interfering and unjust wizard?  What if Hamlet really was a naive fop who could be manipulated not only by the Triumvirate of Evil into destroying the great wizard, but by a lusty Falstaff (I'll let you play with any puns that may spring to mind), grumpy Othello, and sassy Juliet (who finally found a backbone after the demise of her husband) who are bent on finding said Great One for themselves?   The answer to all of those what ifs is Kill Shakespeare. 

Beautifully animated, and laden with inside jokes and a smart storyline, this graphic novel is a great way to while away an hour with your favourite Shakespearean heroes and  villains.  But its virtues are, however, what would cause most young readers to give this book a miss.  If you aren't familiar with the bard's plays, and the all of the little nuances of the characters - I mean, was I surprised when Lady Macbeth killed her husband by bricking him up alive behind a wall a' la "The Cask of the Amontillado", because she felt Macbeth was being to namby pamby in his negotiations with Richard - interest would wane quickly.

In a heartbeat I would bring this book into my grade eleven or twelve classroom and show it off to my kids. A few, who by this point have studied two or three plays, would likely take great pleasure in supporting Richard and Lady M.'s quest to kill Shakespeare. However, I think an average junior high reader would be left non-plussed.  Me, I want the Kill Shakespeare t-shirt from the creators' website.

My second read, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, read much like it punning namesake tastes.  Conventional, predictable, and ultimately, nothing you want to base an entire diet on.  Selling itself as a murder mystery, the real mystery to me was why author Josh Berk spent the first third of the novel describing how the main character, Will Halpin, is over-weight, deaf, and a misfit at his new school, Coaler High.  No surprise, Will can only find friendship with another misfit.

paperback cover If the plot is supposed to turn on who killed the  popular quarterback, then make that your story.  Instead, we are subjected to a number of stereotypical characters (all teachers are rather inept, ignorant, or desperate to win the approval  of the cool kids), contrived subplots (is Will Halpin related to "Dummy" Halpin, a deaf miner who died in a mining accident over 50 years ago), and a predictable outcome.

Will kids read this book?  Sure.  Hamburger Halpin reads easily and quickly, and many kids will enjoy Will's self-deprecating humour and the value the book places on friendship.  But your more sophisticated readers, the ones who don't just want packaged goods, may finish the book still hungry for a richer serving of story-telling.

Having said this, I am putting The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin forward for the next level of Smackdown.  I want to read what someone else has to say about this book, and if we are looking for a book kids will read, despite my love of Lady Macbeth, a second "Halpin" of Will is in order.

Tracy Wright


  1. Hmmm - Hamburger Halpin just arrived on my desk and I enjoyed the first three pages. I'm interested to see how I find the plot development now that I have read your post!

  2. Just put The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin on Kobo! Preview of Every You Every Me for Kobo wasn't a preview at all. Who wants to look at all the publishing details? Won't be reading that one on the ereader. Wasn't sure how image and redacting would appear on the screen...