Book Review: Jasper John Dooley: You’re in Trouble

JasperTitle: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

See also: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

Author: Caroline Adderson

Illustrator: Ben Clanton

See also: Ben Clanton's Squiggles and Scribbles

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Year: March 1, 2015

Pages: 124

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review of the book. All you get here is honesty and my opinions.]

My initial reaction after I finished this book was that I didn't care for it all that much. I mean, frankly, I work with children all day long who need absolutely zero drinks of Torpedo High Energy Drink. On one level, I perfectly get the humor; on another level, the story was an echo of what I deal with every single day of my life. I'm sure I am in for some nightmares. I jest, of course, but reading about my students in this book was fun and helped me see them in a little different light. Maybe I can just go to work each day an imagine they have dads or moms who allowed them to drink Red Bull before they came to class.

So, let's start with what I didn't like about the book and from there move on to what I did like.

First, the role of the parents kind of bugged me. I see this in children's books a lot. The parents are present, but they are also kind of stupid. I'm not sure if Jasper's parents are sitting back and waiting for Jasper to figure out the problem on his own or if they are aloof (mother) and kind of irresponsible (dad). This is the only Jasper story I have read so I'm not sure if this is typical or atypical of the parents in the series. I'm not sure why the parents seem so strange, but they bugged me because they seemed to provide no guidance whatsoever in the story; they were there, but they were absent. The age group this story is written for (7-10 according to Kids Can Press) is an age group that needs guidance during discovery. I'm not sure I want my sons' best friends giving them guidance for living–even if I am not naive enough to disbelieve they get it from them anyhow.

Second, there were a few language issues that bothered me. Maybe it's Canadian to say things like 'the lates', but this is not something that is typically understood in American English–and it's certainly not something we teach in Language Arts. It's a colloquialism that might need explained to students who read the book or adjusted in versions destined for the US. Second, I'm not sure why there are so many randomly placed capital letters in the book. At seemingly random places, random words are capital in the middle of sentences. It's odd and, again, it's not how English is taught. I'm sure it's a literary device, but I still hate it because there's no accompanying explanation as to why it is that way.  Third, I'm not sure I understand the author's intention in using the word 'pills' to describe cutting celery. As an adult, I understand what it means; I'm not sure children will understand. And the notion that 'it would be so much easier to swallow a pill with Torpedo High Energy Drink…' is just a bit too close to reckless even if the author is talking about celery.

I am a teacher and I see the results of children who make reckless choices. I also see the results of parents who are irresponsible and aloof. I understand that some things are meant to be funny, but lampooning dangerous things can problematic, for children, if done so without explanation. I hate to be critical, but if I want children to read a book I have to read it with an educator's eye and a parental eye. It seems to me that these, and some other strange things, might require explanation or some guidance. It also appears that Jasper is simply destined to learn the hard way. He keeps going back to this energy drink, he keeps feeling badly about it, and he keeps swearing off drinking more. There is probably a lot of truth in this for adults as well as children. If Jasper learns he cannot manage these things on his own, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned by adults too?

Now, on to the things I liked about the book.

First, I think the book is really funny. As an adult, I saw the humor and some innuendo that made the book interesting. There was one particular conversation that I thought was terrific:

"Three things, the. Good sleep? Check. Good breakfast? Check. Dad set two plates of bacon and eggs on the table. "With your good sleep and your good breakfast behind you, you'll feel confident and strong for the game, Jasper.' 

"My breakfast is in front of me," Jasper said.

"But after you eat it, it will be behind you."

"Won't it be in me?" (46; digital edition; NOOK)

I love conversations like this. Here in this conversation I think the author captures well the spirit of a precocious child. It's really a wonderful exchange and it characterizes many of the conversations that take place in the book. It's funny and charming and totally exasperates the dad.

Second, there are not a lot of illustrations in the book, but the ones that are there are well done and add texture to the story. One of my favorite pictures is of Jasper falling asleep on picnic table in the park while his friend Ori, wearing a shirt reminiscent of Charlie Brown, looks on. I would like to have seen a few more illustrations, but that's a personal preference. The ones that are in the book are fun and capture well the tenor of the story.

Third, I think the ending added a nice twist to a story that seemed to me lacked an overall plot. Essentially the story goes from scene to scene and works very hard to see how many 'bad' things Jasper can do after drinking the energy drink. There's no real rising action, no real climax, and the can of energy drink must be the biggest can of energy drink on earth. But the end of the story provided a fresh twist that I truly appreciated and, to be sure, brought the story together for me. I laughed out loud when I read it and, after I thought about it for several hours after finishing the book, it caused me to reassess the entire story. Really it was the ending that won it for me.

Overall, I like the story even if I have a few reservations about some of the things in the story. Those reservations might well be matters of personal preference and nothing more. This book is part of a collection of Jasper John Dooley stories–early chapter books for young readers. I am sure that young readers will be amused by the chapter dedicated to Jasper's underwear, to toilet foot, and to getting stuck in the wrong bathroom. I'm sure they will be amused by many things in the book. It's a good effort even with my exceptions noted in the above paragraphs. It's a fun story I think will be fully enjoyed if there is some parental or teacher guidance. The book is not just about making good choices or the sketchy things that happen when we make bad choices, but about learning to resist temptation. In this regard, it may be helpful for some adults too.

4/5 stars

Grades 2-5/Ages 7-10

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