Thursday, January 28, 2010

Series review: "Underwhere," by Bruce Hale

Prince of Underwhere (2008)
Bruce Hale
HarperTrophy / HarperCollins

A friend has convinced me to try my hand this year at writing children's literature; but I don't actually know anything about children's literature, so am starting the process simply by reading a large selection of titles that have been recommended to me. I was told that Bruce Hale's "Underwhere" series is a good example of literature perfect for third-graders; and indeed, as I read this first volume myself, I saw that it matched up with a lot of common advice I've now been given regarding writing for this age group, including a strong sense of humor, a quickly-paced but not too complicated storyline, a concentration on the ways that boys and girls interact at that age, lots of action and mystery, many scenes set in a school environment, and sentences that average around ten words.

Of course, this differs quite a bit from the last series I read, Nancy Krulik's "Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo" books, even though they share nearly the exact same literary traits; the "Underwhere" books are designed specifically for boys, and rely on a steady concentration of gentle potty humor that I've seen many parents actually complain about now online, but that is apparently like catnip to eight-year-old boys. (I also find it interesting how both authors paint similar views of the relationship between boys and girls, but with competing looks at who's supposed to be the hero; in both series, for example, the boy characters are obnoxious and gross, but with it being a hinderance to our girl heroes in "Katie Kazoo" while being the key to the solution in "Underwhere.") I'm also told that this is a great title for the infamous "reluctant readers" of this age group, in that half the story (all the chapters that take place in the fantasy realm of "Underwhere") are done in comic-book form, in an abstracted, engaging heavy-line style by Shane Hillman. The book is around 10,000 words plus another 70 pages of comics, for a total of 165 pages, making it on the long side of the books I've now read for this age group.

By the way, my fellow aspiring authors would be wise to check out how proactive author Hale is with his career -- he's also a trained storytelling performer who appears at dozens of conferences and schools each year, with a website, lifestyle and even wardrobe that is almost entirely kid-friendly. Just like with adult literature, this is a highly important part now of how successful an author is, of how willing they are to really go out there and hunt down as many promotional opportunities as they can, and chances to directly connect with their audience.

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