Talkin’ Trash

h1 September 22nd, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

The Qwikpick Adventure Society
by Sam Riddleburger
Penguin Group
May 2007
(review copies)

Jules: Lyle Hertzog and his friends, Dave and Marilla, form the Qwikpick Adventure Society, which is named after the convenience store where Lyle’s parents work and where they all like to hang out in the small town in which they live. With no plans on Christmas day, they decide — after reading about it in the newspaper — to visit the antiquated sludge fountain at the nearby sewage plant, originally built decades ago and soon to be replaced in a sewer upgrade. Essentially, this is their last chance to see the “fountain of poop,” and they wouldn’t miss it for anything. This book is their report of the adventure, which Riddleburger presents in a rather multi-media format — with occasional hand-lettered font, as if on lined school paper; line drawings; the aforementioned newspaper article; photographs; and more. Plus, a haiku about the poop fountain. No kidding.

Eisha and I both read Qwikpick. Here’s our mini co-review on this one . . .

eisha: I thought this was a great little MG novel. I liked the format, with Lyle’s confessional hand-written inserts, occasional photos and ephemera tucked into the official typed “report.”

What stood out for me, though, was the strength of the characters. Everyone in the story was believable, and really interesting – even the minor players, like Larry the gas station manager who used to live in the break room, and Freddie the sewage plant manager. The great little details about them, like the record player and lava lamp that Larry left behind, and the Molly Hatchet tape that Freddie rescued from the sewage, flesh them out into quirky adults that I felt like I really knew.

And I loved that the main characters are three kids who are kind of on the fringe, but not in a big-deal, total-school-outcast major-drama way. They live in trailers, they hang out in a gas station and play an old Ms. Pac Man game, they can’t afford computers, Dave is Jewish and Marilla is a Jehovah’s Witness – but they aren’t social pariahs, and they aren’t unhappy kids overly burdened with adult concerns. They’re just kids, with realistic family situations and a believable friendship with each other. They’re the kind of kids who might walk across town on Christmas Day to see a Fountain of Poop.

Jules: Eisha, yeah, the characterization was strong, and the book worked in so many ways. But what I really loved was how Riddleburger touched on class issues without being too heavy-handed about it: Marilla used to live in a town house, but then her father got a kidney condition and had to quit his job and they now live in a trailer park; Lyle gets a used typewriter instead of the computer he wanted one Christmas morning (which he uses to type up this tale); the trailer park they live in is in danger, since the city is planning on building town houses (“The people in the town houses would say that we were bringing down their property values”), which really angers Lyle’s dad; and Lyle’s dad also worries about paying off the credit cards “and his student loans from when he was in college but didn’t finish”. In fact, that part of the book (in Section VII) was not only spot-on for a lot of lower and middle class families (shoot, even upper class families), but I found it rather moving, too:

Whenever Dad’s student loans come up it’s always bad, he usually ends up shouting and having to leave the house for a long time and when he comes back he always says he’s sorry he got mad, but it just shows how I can’t screw up like he did.

And there’s that part about Lyle’s “Florida Everglades” tee shirt he got from a thrift store and how Dave, whose mother makes the most money of any of the families, assumed that Lyle had travelled there instead of simply wearing a hand-me-down. But that kind of thing didn’t matter to Dave (in the same way that it doesn’t matter to Lyle and Dave that both of Marilla’s parents look white but “she doesn’t exactly”) . . . All this was so refreshing to read in a middle-grade novel. Face it: A lot of the novels about lower-class children are problem novels, in essence, in one way or another. Even Lyle tells Marilla at one point, “I’ve always been sensitive about living in a trailer because a lot of people are trailer bigots. They think there’s something wrong with you . . .” And these guys just wanna have some fun and see some poop, man (which, it goes without saying, will have elementary students hee-haw laughing). Yet, Riddleburger will get children thinking about class issues as well (not to mention wastewater management — hoo ha!).

And it’s just flat-out funny, too. Here was one of many parts that made me chuckle:

It felt good to be walking around the fields with Marilla and Dave even if it was cold. I think we were all glad we were taking a shortcut instead of just riding our bikes down South Franklin Street. This made it more of an adventure, like that movie The Goonies or Stand By Me, or even in Lord of the Rings, where they have to walk and walk and walk through the mountains.

But instead of wild adventures like in those movies, we just ran into a lot of cow pies.

This one makes for a wonderful, laugh-inducing (okay, giggles. We are talkin’ poop fountains here) read-aloud. I hope there will be more Qwikpick adventures.

Tracking Trash
by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin
March 2007
(library copy)

Jules: So, the rest of the world and kidlitosphere have already sung the praises of this most excellent book, and it’s not as if anyone needs 7-Imp to as well. But I can’t pass up an opportunity to at least mention this book. You probably already know the subject matter of this award-winning non-fiction title: In 1990, a tanker (the Hansa Carrier), carrying consumer goods in the Pacific Ocean from one continent to another, lost over twenty of its cargo containers, containing Nike tennis shoes, into the waters during a storm. Very soon after, the tennis shoes appeared on beaches in the United States (in the Seattle area). Nope, Eric Carle was not the only author to be inspired by this type of event; American oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer, to whom I tip my hat and (a rubber ducky or two, which fell into the Pacific Ocean as well in ’92, inspiring Mr. Carle), set out to find out where they came from and why they were landing there, studying how ocean currents flow (thanks to those sneakers) and emphasizing the importance of tracking trash. For several years, Ebbesmeyer collected data on the shoes’ appearance on the shore, coming to understand that this was, in essence, the largest oceanographic drift experiment to have been recorded.

Burns further explains for the budding scientists and oceanographers (and environmentalists) of the world what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the OSCURS (Ocean Surface Currents Simulation) computer modeling program do and how Ebbesmeyer formed connections with beachcombers and established a network of people to report the landfall of the contents of this Hansa Carrier and other cargo spills, generally explaining the science of studying ocean motion through tracking plastic trash.

The book works in every way: Burns keeps the text interesting and fun (as Betsy Bird pointed out in her detailed review — Parts One and Two — Burns “{l}ure{s} the people in with the monster debris and pictures of barnacle-ridden nets,” something which would likely attract the child not even seeking out such subject matter). As every review points out, too, the text is full of disturbing, take-action facts (such as what the VOYA review chose to highlight: that between the mainland United States and the Hawaiian islands, there is a floating plastic garbage dump as big as the state of Alaska. Yeesh). But, it’s also never too heavy-handed, something I love about this book. And the book’s single greatest triumph is that Burns manages to make that broader, not too-insufferably-didactic statement about the effect on the environment we litter-happy humans have (“the message of reduce, reuse, and recycle comes across loud and clear,” VOYA wrote, though the book, on its surface, is about tracking trash in the ocean). There are also beautiful, full-color photos in the book, and all the charts and diagrams and overall graphics are well-labelled and easy to understand. Essentially, all the science therein is explained in clear terms, and Burns even included a list of Web sites and books for further reading at the close of the book.

Highly recommended, but then you already knew that from many other sources. Here’s to whatever Burns decides to enlighten us about next.

3 comments to “Talkin’ Trash”

  1. […] I’m on Cloud Nine over here now that 7 Impossible has posted their review of The Qwikpick Adventure […]

  2. I’m so glad to hear more about Sam’s book– how wonderful. And I love Loree and her book. Nice pairing!

  3. […] Also reviewed by: A Fuse #8 Production, A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. […]

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