Book Review: The Qwikpick Adventure Society

(Reposted from my previous blog. Originally posted on March 5, 2008)

I don’t remember how I first wandered across the blog of Sam Riddleburger, but it was shortly after I started this blog, and I’ve enjoyed reading it tremendously. Enough so that I really wanted to read his book, The Qwikpick Adventure Society. He’s discussed various aspects of children’s literature, from John Christopher (author of the Tripods trilogy) week to the political orientation of Dr. Seuss’ widow, the name of one of the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are to the travesty that was Disney’s “The Black Cauldron” (I suspect that no one in the studio had read any of the Prydain Chronicles … and don’t get me started on what they did to A Wrinkle In Time).

I had my sons for their school break over the last week of February, and I had determined that my 9-year-old son was finally going to read a book. He’s well into the “reluctant reader” category, and his mother doesn’t really get involved. She reads to him, but doesn’t push him to read on his own. I’ve struck out with The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many other books that I thought would be big hits. However, I decided that Qwikpick was too promising to pass up.

I have to say this up front … One of my pet peeves is the tendency of businesses to spell words, shall we say, creatively. I have long said that few things cause me the pain that I experience on thinking of an “all-nite donut drive-thru.” So, the title hit one of my pet peeves … but it made sense, ultimately. It’s the name of the convenience store. I’ll get back to that later.

This book hooked me from the dedications page:

This book is dedicated to my favorite writers, including Daniel Pinkwater, Lloyd Alexander, Helen Cresswell, Mervyn Peake, Lynda Barry, Charles Dickens, and, especially, Cece Bell.

It’s worth noting … when my wife and I were discussing baby names, I tried to convince her that “Lloyd Alexander” would be a great name for a boy. She wasn’t really convinced, but we never did have a boy’s name chosen up until the point that Eagle was born (maybe it’s just as well that she is a girl — we had her name chosen almost before she was conceived!).

The book is made to look like it’s the adventure journal of the Society. The spine is printed to look like it’s spiral-bound. The pictures look taped — it’s brilliantly done. I love it. The book is printed to look as if it was typed by the main character, Lyle, with a few hand-written notes, sketches, and an origami Pegasus inserted.

Reading this book with my son was great for him, but also for me. Not only because we were reading together, but because it was a lot of fun! How many of us made pointless clubs as kids, and maybe even planned out our adventures that we never had? I remember reading Hardy Boys books, The Red Tape Gang, and stories like that … and a couple friends of mine formed our little club. Our club’s main function was … umm, … to hang out much as we did before we made the club. But, it was a club!

The first section of the adventure report (a lot like a first chapter) discusses this very thing. Lyle discusses how funny it is to call the Society a Society at all. At this point, thinking about my own childhood, I went from hooked to enthralled. Riddleburger brilliantly hit a nostalgic nerve.

The book is filled with references to other stories — The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, The Princess Bride, the Lord of the Rings series, and such. Nothing is really being ripped off, he’s simply referring to them. Much the way that I did when I was a kid and talking, relating my life to the stories that I read.

My 11-year-old, who listened to much of what we read out loud and is 2/3 done with reading the book on his own (he took a break in the middle of reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to read this), said that the story takes a long time building up the characters, which really makes the story more interesting because you get to know the people. He’s right. The story takes quite a while building the characters, their interactions, and their motivations.

The adventure itself is a lot of fun. They walk to the sewage treatment plant to see the soon-to-be-replaced “fountain of poop,” the old device in place at the sewage plant. Yes, there’s a lot of fairly nauseating imagery. There is much mention made of the smell … naturally there is.

One of my favorite moments of reading the book was when Lyle mentioned that the Qwikpick sells biscuits. My wife asked,  “Is he British?” I pointed out that he’s from Virginia. The next morning, by the way, I made biscuits and gravy for breakfast.

This book is really very good. Not only for my 9-year-old “reluctant reader,” but also for an adult who remembers when this kind of thing was his dream — making my own club and setting out on some kind of an adventure. Once my son has finished reading my copy, my mother (who teaches 3rd grade) wants it. She might get a copy for her classroom, on my recommendation and that of my son.

It’s a fun book, and a good read. I would encourage that you get a copy. It might be hard to find, but it’s worth the time to special order it (or order it online).

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