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Thursday, April 1, 2004

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Sideways Stories from Wayside School," "Where Willy Went/ Cinderella's Bum and Other Bottoms"


"Sideways Stories from Wayside School," Louis Sachar, Bloomsbury; 2004; 139 pp.

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Wayside School should have been built like most regular schools: one story high with its classrooms all in a row. Instead, someone goofed up and the classrooms got piled up one on top of the other, 30 stories high. And if this seems bizarre, it's merely the preface to Louis Sachar's collection of 30 stories -- now available in a new paperback edition -- about the 30th story of Wayside School.

The classroom at the very top is packed with the craziest students and teachers you can imagine. For instance, John can only read upside-down and that's a real problem when he's trying to follow what's written on the blackboard. Instead of telling him to read the right way up, what does his teacher suggest? Something no right-minded person would: that he stands on his head.

Calvin's teacher sends him to the 19th floor to deliver a note. That shouldn't be too difficult for Calvin, but here's the problem: Wayside School doesn't have a 19th floor.

Maurecia loves ice-cream more than anything else. When she gets fed up of all the usual flavors, her teacher brings her one she's never tried before: Maurecia-flavor ice cream.

Mrs. Gorf is the nastiest teacher in the world. When she gets angry with her students, she doesn't make them stand in a corner, or write a note for their parents. She turns them into apples.

Among this crazy collection of characters, Sachar even has a stand-in for himself -- yard teacher Louis, who's present in almost all the stories. Both author Louis and yard teacher Louis seem to think that there's nothing odd about Wayside School or its pupils. In fact, if your teacher has never turned you into an apple, it's your school that's odd.

There's never a boring moment at Wayside School or in this collection of witty stories about it. Sachar's debut work for younger readers is a wickedly wsteidt read (that's "twisted," for those of you who didn't get it).

This is children's writing by an author who is not afraid to let his imagination run amok. Or to tell a story, well . . . like it isn't.

For children 7-9 years.

"Where Willy Went/ Cinderella's Bum and Other Bottoms," Nicholas Allan, Random House; 2004.

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Something in those tired old tales about the birds and the bees doesn't quite add up, does it? You know, how a stork brought you home when you were a baby -- or how Mummy's tummy started growing bigger and bigger one fine day . . .

Puhleez! You know better, don't you? So does Nicholas Allan.

This children's author comes clean with young readers and tells you the truth about where Willy went. In picture-book form, Allan undertakes to tell the biggest story of all -- how life begins -- with the help of a tiny sperm called Willy.

Willy lives inside Mr. Browne with 300 million friends. They all look a lot like tadpoles -- and swim as well as tadpoles, too. They're busy preparing for the Great Swimming Race. Willy is practicing extra hard. He wants to win the prize -- a wonderful egg that lives inside Mrs. Browne.

When the day of the race arrives, Willy, like all the other competitors, gets a number and two maps, one to help him find his way out of Mr. Browne and the second to help him navigate inside Mrs. Browne. The teacher cries "Go!" and they're off!

Allan draws hundreds and hundreds of sperm (with swim-goggles on) swimming their way to the finish line. The facts of life have never been funnier.

Does Willy win the race? Of course he does. He's our hero, isn't he? But once he gets his prize, he disappears. Plain vanishes! Kaput!

Where does he go? Let's leave the best part of the story to the author, shall we?

If "Where Willy Went," tickles you enough, pick up another wicked picture book by the same author. Now available in paperback, "Cinderella's Bum and Other Bottoms" takes a pot shot at a classic children's tale.

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This cheeky picture-book is for all those children out there who worry about their bums being too BIG. Big bums are good for many things. Queen Victoria used hers to warm the throne of England for 60 years. Santa uses his to make crash landings. And speaking of landings, Cinderella had a big bum and still landed the handsome prince (and I'm dying to tell you how, but I won't).

Here's the bottom line: Bums come in all shapes and sizes, so enjoy yours.

For children 6 years and above.



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