Confession: I didn’t expect to like The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader. I saved it ’til almost last of all the 2012 Cybils middle grade fiction finalists, and by the time I’d gotten this far, I had almost run out of steam for middle grade fiction. I don’t find the cover too appealing since I’m not much of a comic book or super hero fan, and the title alone was enough to hint at what might be inside it. (Hint: It’s not a cookbook!) Plus, it seemed a bit too much like the Origami Yoda books (of which I’ve read the first and second) to offer much in the way of variety. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find this a middle grade school story that’s full of heart.
The Adventures of Beanboy is the story of Tucker McBean, comic book and superhero obsessed seventh grader, brother and primary caregiver for his developmentally delayed brother Beecher, and all around nice guy. Tucker and Beecher’s parents have recently split, and life’s a lot different now: they live in an apartment, his mom works and goes to school so they never see her, and Tucker has a lot of responsibility when it comes to his younger brother. When Tucker sees that his favorite comic book publisher is holding a contest for the creation of the best sidekick for his favorite superhero and the prize is a scholarship, he decides to go for it. His mom could really use the money, and this would solve the problem of them communicating with her by sticky notes since they never see each other. Interspersed throughout the story are illustrations–comic panels–that are presumably created by Tucker in his quest for the creation of this new superhero sidekick. Obviously, his sidekick is Beanboy, and his super power is (what else?) flatulence. 🙂 That’s one thread of the plot; the other one involves school and Tucker’s “arch nemesis,” a mean girl named Sam Zawicki. When Sam ends up babysitting Beecher (through an arrangement with another babysitter the McBeans had used, so Tucker actually had nothing to do with it), Tucker begins to see Sam and her meanness in a new light. The best word I can think of to describe Tucker and the overall theme of this story is kind, and that’s a mighty good word to associate with a middle grade novel.
I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of bathroom humor. I’ve never read any of the other middle grade stories that feature bodily functions or underwear-clad superheroes. I found this story’s bathroom references surprisingly understated, with most of the humor (and it’s really very subtle) coming through the illustrations. While I can’t say I completely followed every bit of the superhero story line, I think middle grade readers will appreciate Tucker’s desire to do something to help his family. I found the depiction of middle school life, both the boys and the girls, to be realistic. Again, what I like most about this story is that Tucker is a genuinely nice kid, and that really does make him a superhero. For folks who don’t mind a bit of bathroom humor, I give this one a Highly Recommended. (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
Other 2012 Cybils middle grade fiction finalists I’ve reviewed:
- Almost Home by Joan Bauer
- Fourmile by Watt Key
- Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
- The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio