Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lunch Lady, Volumes 3-8

I have read and reviewed the first two volumes of this series in the past, and as luck would have it, the author Jarrett J. Krosoczka attended the 2013 Children's Festival of Reading in Knoxville. He has been busy working on the series, because now he is all the way up to a ninth volume. The newest one, Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain, was sold out by the time I got to the book counter but I did snap up the volumes in between.

The set up, in case you don't recall, is this: by day, Lunch Lady works at the school with her fellow "lunch engineer" Betty, who designs many different culinary-based gadgets, like night vision tacos, fish stick nunchucks, and spork phones, that are useful in their many adventures. By night, she defends the school and its students and teachers from various menaces, which  there are a lot of at this school, from crazed cyborg attacks to crazed librarians. Lunch Lady handles all these situations with skill, humor, and aplomb. She is a smart, fun character, and it is hard for me to dislike a heroine who uses exclamations like "Good gravy!," "Great goulash!," and "Oh my tater tots!"

Also, there are three other characters that factor largely in these books, the Breakfast Bunch kids, Terrence, Dee, and Hector, who assist Lunch Lady when they can and have to deal with the local bully Millmoe. These characters offer readers more relatable viewpoints and some comic relief as well.

The plots of each book revolves around some mysterious circumstance based around mundane school day characters and events, which gives Krosoczka lots of material to mine for humor and intrigue. So, in effect, each volume is a black, white, and yellow Scooby Doo-type mystery with fun and sympathetic characters. Here are some brief summaries of the six volumes I read:

In this third volume, Lewis Scribson, a finicky author comes to school to read and autograph his books. He will not eat the cookies Lunch Lady has baked for him. He will not sign copies of his own book if they have wrinkled covers, which bothers one of his long-time fans who has a cherished and well thumbed through volume. And he resents having to do his presentation in the gymnasium. After his visit, the PE teacher mysteriously has vanished, which leads to two questions: What did the author have to do with that disappearance? and Is playing dodgeball the best method to deal with an army of Flippy Bunny dolls?

Lunch Lady tries to take a break in book four, because what could possibly go wrong at a relaxing summer camp? Aside from farts and other assorted smells and bodily functions that are accentuated by staying in summer camp cabins, there is also the matter of a swamp monster roaming about. Initial research points toward it being some kind of new lifeform, but its ability to go into a kitchen and pilfer ice cream sandwiches indicates it may just be a person in a suit. The various camp counselors provide lots of alternatives and red herrings about who is terrorizing everyone and threatening all of the fun activities planned for the next two weeks. It could not be the dreamy new counselor Ben, with his blond hair and guitar, could it?

In Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, someone has stolen all of the baked goods for the bake sale the students needed to fund their field trip to the museum. Among the suspects are Orson, the over-zealous safety patrol officer, custodian Kalowski who hates cleaning up all the crumbs left by sloppy students, Mrs. Calahan, the health teacher with an anti-sugar vendetta, and bus driver of the year Brenda who hates footprints on seats and is a maniac behind the wheel. I don't want to spoil things too much, but in the end the culprit is caught and the bake sale is a success, which leads to the next book:

Lunch Lady is an art aficionado, and when one of the chaperones falls sick she gets enlisted to accompany the students on their trip to the museum. The Breakfast Bunch wander off by themselves and learn that there are a surprising amount of fake pieces of art on display. The new museum director Dr. Fraudwa is apparently up to no good, and he does not take kindly to their snooping around. It's up to Lunch Lady to crack the case and save the day, but she may be too distracted by the museum tour to be effective.

After cutting out on part of the field trip, the Breakfast Bunch has to join the after school math team. With their added brain power, the team steamrolls their way to the championship against the private school Willowby Academy, which has not lost in more than 20 years. After Lunch Lady and Betty figure out that there is no trace of the Willowby mathletes once they win their championships and the fact that they all have the same green eyes, they decide to break in and investigate their rival school. This action puts their crime-fighting secret identities, and lives, at risk.

Finally (for now), it's picture day at Thompson Brook Elementary School, and the ultra-chichi photographer Stefani DePino has come to immortalize the students. Strangely, many of them have broken out in acne at the worst time. Lunch Lady and Betty investigate and learn the cause of this malady and also its link to tabloid magazines. Along the way, we learn about missing student council funds as well as who would in a fight between two cafeteria workers and a posse of fashion models.

As you can hopefully glean from my summaries, these stories are pretty silly. They are full of corny jokes, puns, and comic book action. They are also quite a lot of fun. The images are crisp and clean, and the use of yellow tones throughout accentuates things nicely. Author Jarrett Krosoczka has an obvious love of comics and uses their conventions to great effect. He has a few other works, including the picture books Max for President and Ollie the Purple Elephant and the recently published chapter book Platypus Police Squad. Krosoczka speaks more about his creative process in this interview.

This series of books rolls on to great reception. It has twice won a Children's Choice Book Award and also received high marks from Common Sense Media. Kirkus Reviews calls them "agreeably silly" and "action-filled." There has even been talk of a live-action movie starring Amy Poehler, though nothing has come to fruition yet.

Previews, a Lunch Lady video game, interviews, and much more are available at Krosoczka's official webpage

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