Fear and Laughing in these Pages

NOTE:  The following books were free copies sent to me by Owl Kids, for review.  I received no compensation for my review, nor have I in any way been influenced by Owl Kids regarding the nature of my review.

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Check out this entertaining interview of Jeff Szpirglas, by Open Book Toronto.  And his equally entertaining page on the Maple Tree Press site.

Jeff Szpirglas.  Gross Universe: Your Guide to All Disgusting Things Under the Sun.  Illus. Michael Cho.  Toronto, Ontario:  Maple Tree Press, 2004.

Hello, readers.  Look in the mirror.  Now back to me.  Now back to the mirror.  Now back to me.  Sadly, we are both gross.  But if we use that manly deodorant . . . nope, we’ll still be gross.   Look at your hands.  They’re covered with germs.  Look again – they’re also covered with dead skin cells.  Now those cells are shedding onto your keyboard and getting eaten by dust mites.  I’m on a couch (which is also covered with dust mites).

Owl Kids calls him “One part MAD Magazine, one part experienced teacher, and one part grown-up kid all mixed together…”*  Jeff Szpirglas is fascinated by all those things that make life weird, scary, and gross – and has written five guides to help the rest of us understand those things (and maybe appreciate them a bit more…I mean, mucus may be icky, but it’s kind of a lifesaver!).

The main idea of Gross Universe – sure, to fulfill that guilty pleasure some of us have in learning about disgusting things.  But also to help us understand why all these things happen in the first place (like why that crusty stuff appears in the corners of your eyes when you wake up).

Readers who are freaked out by things like pus (yes, I said it) will see why it’s so important for healing.  And readers worried about bad breath will learn what keeps it away – and be happy they’re not komodo dragons.  Those things have killer breath.

The author’s M.O. – make it funny.  He’s talking about burps and butts and boogers, after all.  No need to be all science-y about it.  My favorite bits were the “Games You Should Never Play” boxes scattered throughout the book.  For example, never try to beat an insect at “Epidermis Pop-out.”  It’s just not possible.

Criticisms:  Nothing major.  Re: the “Pool of Tears” section.  I would’ve liked to know how feeling sad causes tears.  Re: “Hideous Healing.”  Maybe I’m overanalyzing, but the phrase “white saviors” (referring to white blood cells) seems a bit…well…maybe not the best choice of words.

Overall:  Laugh-out-loud hilarious and very informative!  Both the text and the illustrations are bold and goofy, without crossing the line into Inappropriate Land.

Jeff Szpirglas.  Fear This Book: Your Guide to Fright, Horror, & Things That Go Bump in the Night.  Illus. Ramón Pérez.  Toronto, Ontario:  Maple Tree Press, 2006.

Bees (and other bee-like stinging insects) and roller coasters.  These are two of my main fears.  The roller coaster fear…well, yeah, kind of odd considering I’ve been skydiving.  Maybe Jeff Szpirglas could explain it.

In Fear This Book, he explores both the physical and psychological causes/effects of fear.  And as in Gross Universe, he uses jokes and good-natured teasing to help readers see fear as less scary and more fascinating.

Some fears are just common sense – it makes sense to be scared of things that can hurt or kill us, like poisonous snakes.  And even babies know not to get too close to a cliff edge (no babies were harmed in the finding out of this fact).  But what about school exams?  Or the number 13?  Did you know there’s an actual word for that?

Some of my favorite bits:

  • the illustration of young Jeff watching Jaws 2.  What’s scarier – the giant killer creature that (unlike most sharks) loves eating people, or the very 80’s outfit worn by Jeff’s babysitter?
  • the “Horror Tips for the Directors of Tomorrow.”  What is it about scary movies that makes them so thrill-tastic?     [Insert obligatory “Thriller” reference]
  • the big, fancy words for various fears.  Like “hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.”  That’s the fear of long words.

Overall:  Same as Gross Universe – very funny, very informative, very much recommended.

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* Owlkids Books Spring 2012 Catalog, pg. 36

P.S.  Re: my post title.

 Get it?  Come on, it was a little clever, wasn’t it?

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