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February 2014

Time Is The Best Teacher

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” ‘What’s this?’ he mumbled, lifting it for a closer look. It was the sheriff’s business card. He stood there for a moment reading the bold print. On the front was sheriff’s name and phone number. Then he flipped it over. Hand written on the back was a quote. ‘Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.’ (Mark Twain). His brow furrowed as he read, wondering why the sheriff would have written that on the back of his card.”

There is an eclectic group of characters in The King and the Kid by Konnrad, including:  a grandpa with false teeth who constantly espouses  cliches and idioms every time he opens his mouth he may as well be a professional hockey player, a main character with an extra finger and incredible strength, an evil scientist with henchmen as dumb as rocks, an overbearing mother, an inferior yet economically secure fat friend, a happy-go-lucky goth girl with a teenage crush, the hot “chick”, bullies, the ubiquitous and almighty little black dog all with a mystery to be solved. To me this sounds like it has all the ingredients of typical Steven Spielberg nostalgia-pre-teen movie or victim of pure satire.

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This book has all the elements that a young reader will enjoy, the problem for me was that it lacked the depth and charm that would permit an older reader to enjoy a children’s novel in their own distinct way. Children and adults will read books differently but view the substance that interests them similarly. For instance, the material that I was having trouble with, will be the type of stuff kids will be waiting for, and the crap that kids hate will be the stuff I enjoy. A good young adult/ children’s novel needs to transcend genres and provide depth, but I felt The King and the Kid fell flat with respect to my expectations when it comes to a well-executed young adult story. I may have to wait until I reach the age where my preferred seating arrangement is a rocking chair and not a roman chair before I can fully appreciate this story. Until then, I stand by my feelings.

At the center of the novel is the presence of abduction in small town USA as a cultural exchange of courtesy. As a kid, my biggest fear was not the understandable clowns, spiders, or Bubba’s fear of the dark, it was my brother or myself getting abducted by a stranger. Being vulnerable because of my stature and realizing how easy it would be, gave me fits of paranoia and many sleepless nights. I didn’t feel safe until I was thirteen because I was built more like the character Stump and less like Vincent and knew it would take a team of men to take me into a white box van, one of the few perks of being a big fella. If abduction stories and the idea of children gambling for money are not suitable for young readers than you may not want to select this book. But, I feel that The King and the Kid delivers a lot of important messages and is the perfect start for getting the juices flowing in kids and continuing a long life of reading.

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This book was quite monotonous in its content and didn’t waiver much but kept a steady pace from start to finish. At the times when it seemed like some exciting opportunities where there for the author, he skirted around it and continued down the beaten path. After reading that this book is the introduction to a series of novels with these same characters, it made sense, but I think he may have weakened The King and the Kid for the sake of the series. The author(who seems like a great guy with great intentions) mentioned in his blurb that he writes for children, but adults will be entertained by his novels as well. When I hear this I think of movies that have jokes that kids wouldn’t understand but the parents watching the movie are laughing hysterically at the inclusion of a specific brand of humor that won’t alienate its intended audience. In some cases you find yourself looking at other parents and thinking; did they just say that? The inclusion of suggestive material is one that lies in the ears of the listener, and movies intended for children do an awesome job at exploiting an adults sense of humor without directly offending the child. Unfortunately, for this book I felt it was a tried, tested, and true children/young adult novel.

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” ‘It’s always something with you. Last month it was a new wedge. Month before that, a new putter. Now it’s an extra finger. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you were at the doctor’s office tomorrow asking them to sew one on’.   The Scot perked up. ‘Could they do that?’ “

One of the more redeeming factors in this story was the message of acceptance of differences and the perseverance to overcome life’s obstacles. During the early elementary school years all kids are respected as equals, when you are on the cusp of high school groups disperse. When you reach high school groups are further diversified into athletics, cheerleaders, computer enthusiasts, musicians, theater, academics…It’s like The Warriors all over again, except they’re not asking you to come out and play, they’re telling you to go away. What I appreciated about this book was how the main characters, despite their differences were accepting of each other and inclusive to outsiders. In this day and age, this is a great message for the youth to hear. Rather than highlight the differences of your peers, let’s celebrate similarities. Not only is Vince dealing with being perceived as an “oddity” because of his sixth finger, he is also dealing with the sudden death of his mother, and the downward spiral his father is going through with alcohol, depression and a corresponding stint in a psychological treatment center. Vince is living with his sister Sarah and Grandpa Joe in financial ruins, but maintains a hopeful and ambitious attitude throughout everything that seems to come his way. Again, the messages are great for everyone, but children could definitely learn a lot from the likes of Sarah, Ammana, Stump, and especially Vince.

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Anyone looking for a fast and easy read that engages children and the potential to entertain adults will enjoy The King and the Kid by Konnrad.

 ” ‘Everyone copes with loss in different ways.’ Grandpa Joe met Vince’s eyes.’Some folks run.’ Vince knew he was talking about him. ‘Some folks cry.’ Vince looked over at his sister. ‘And some folks get real quiet and twist up inside themselves. They shut everyone and everything else out.’ Both Vince and Sarah looked at their father Bud.”

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