Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Animal House

By Candace Ryan
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
$16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

In this loopy, fun debut, a boy tries to convince his gray-haired teacher that an armchair with a powerful beak ate his homework, but fails to mention that his so-called "vulchair" also loves to munch on old ladies.

Even though Jeremy's gorilla-faced house looms large in the neighborhood, no one seems to believe that his house is any different than anyone else's, let alone that it's genetically spliced with zoo animals.

It wouldn't be a big deal, except that his animal house, with its giraffe roof and monkey chimney, is always getting Jeremy into trouble in class.

While other kids only worry about dogs eating their homework, Jeremy has an entire house that gets into mischief -- every inanimate feature, from the roof to the bed, has eyes, a mouth and appendages, not to mention natural curiosity.

As a result, Jeremy is always coming to class with his homework half-gone or missing things entirely. Take the day his "snailbox," a mailbox with a snail head jutting out the front, devoured the class plant, or the day his "shrewler," a shrew with a ruler running down its tummy, gnawed his Statue of Liberty project.

Until now, Mrs. Nuddles shrugged off Jeremy's wild excuses, saying he had an overactive imagination, but this time Jeremy's gone too far and unless Jeremy can prove to Mrs. Nuddles during a home visit that a "vulchair" really does exist, he won't be going on the class field trip.

That afternoon Jeremy pleads with his house to behave, but as Mrs. Nuddles approaches the house for a visit, it's clear that something truly strange is going to happen. Condor wings swing open to greet her where front doors should be and the floor inside is a checkerboard of flamingos instead of tiles.

Spotting Mrs. Nuddles through his "windodo," Jeremy races down the "harecase" and explains that his parents are upstairs grooming the walls -- brushing the tusks of their "wallrus" and combing the "wallaby's" fur. Mrs. Nuddles eyes widen as she clasps her hands in shock.

But wait, don't look now Mrs. Nuddles, sister Jamie left the "skink" running around the house.

Suddenly the "skink," a lizard with a wash basin face, is knocking Mrs. Nuddles up to the "sealing." Jeremy's "chandelier" tries to catch her but snags his antlers in the ceiling's whiskers instead. Fortunately, Mrs. Nuddles lands unharmed on an "armapillow" on the flamingo floor.

"That's strike one, Jeremy," Mrs. Nuddles warns, a bit disheveled but still holding her ground.

Curiously, Mrs. Nuddles is still not convinced a vulchair could exist despite all the crazy house beasts she's encountered, so Jeremy leads her into his "kangaroom," the belly of a kangaroo, to meet the big-beaked scavenger. 

But before the two can be introduced, a "lamprey" sucks up part of Mrs. Nuddles dress through the top of its shade.

"This is definitely strike two!" she yells. Fortunately Jeremy's "refrigergator," a big green gator with doors on his stomach, pulls Mrs. Nuddles free from the "lamprey." The "refrigergator" then gives Mrs. Nuddles a lick and a small smile appears on her face.

OK, this is all nice and good, Mrs. Nuddles allows, but now it's time to see that vulchair.

But why is Jeremy's bald-faced vulchair drooling at the sight of Mrs. Nuddles? Watch out, Mrs. Nuddles, he's hopping toward you and opening his big hooked beak! Will Jeremy be able to save Mrs. Nuddles from being snatched away?

Little readers will be giggling at the absurdity of Ryan's story, and once the book is read, racing back through the pages to find animals displayed inside the book's covers.

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