Saturday, April 18, 2009

Now That's A Dad!

Come on. Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom is a father book. I can't be imagining this.

I was being way too analytical while reading the first half of Doc Wilde by Tim Byrd. I'd received a copy of the ARC, and ARCs always make me nervous. I want to be able to help new books make their way into the world, much the way that I want to tell everyone their baby is beautiful. I get really nervous when I have to see a new baby, too. In fact, my husband and I used to rehearse in the car what we would say when visiting a family with a new kid. But "He's so small!" and...well, actually, "he's so small" was all we had, and we used to fight over who was going to get to say it. "It's so small" is definitely damning with faint praise when it comes to an ARC.

So I probably put more thought into my reading than I should have when I started Doc Wilde. What's going on here? I kept wondering. Why is this kids' book called Doc Wilde, a very adult name? Do the kids have an important enough part in this story? Okay, this bit about Doc Wilde carrying extra shirts in the trunk of his car because the one he's wearing is always getting damaged, thus exposing his incredibly muscular, toned body is funny...but is it funny enough? And will kids understand it? Don't you have to be familiar with schlocky movies with studly stars exploiting their sexuality with torn clothing to get this joke?

Then I got to the halfway point when the family's autogyro started to fall out of the sky, laughed out loud, and was won over.

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom doesn't really have one main character. It's the story of a family. The kids have important places in the story. They do exciting things. They are capable of saving the day. The dad is a fantasy father. Seriously. He's a brilliant inventor and adventurer, wealthy and world famous. He's ripped, too. (Take a look at that cover illustration.) He can do absolutely anything. (His kids are chippies off the old block, by the way.) The sun reflects off from Doc Wilde causing him to glow when he's out in public. People stare. The mom...well, the mom is dead because in adventure stories the mom is almost always dead. No mom would allow a kid to rappel down the side of the Empire State Building. You have to get rid of them in order for the kids to be able to do things.

This book is described as being a "homage" to classic pulp adventure stories, most of which I'm only vaguely familiar with. Jonny Quest is the closest connection I can make, and I wasn't a regular viewer. Still, I think the basic premise behind the book is very clever, and the quality of the writing is excellent. Over and over again characters just happen to have just the device needed to get out of the most recent danger tucked into a pocket of their vest. That's the kind of thing that could easily become far-fetched and tedious. But everything about this world is far-fetched--that's the point. You're not supposed to believe it. You're in on the wry, inside jokes.

I mean, look. The grandfather in this story is in his nineties, looks to be in his sixties, and can still lug a grown man through a cave. He has trouble keeping his shirts in one piece, too.

I did wonder if I was getting all the jokes, though, because, as I said, my only familiarity with the genre being dealt with here is a few episodes of Jonny Quest. The vocabulary is sophisticated, as are the literary references to writers such as Thoreau and Dante. (The references are appropriate within the context of what is happening in the story, too.) I'm just not sure whether or not the vocabulary and literary references are too sophisticated for child readers.

It's possible that this book could work on two levels. The chapters are short, the plot most definitely does not drag, and there are all kinds of mutant frogs. Perhaps one kind of child reader will be attracted to that aspect of the book. Then there is the sly wit regarding a perfect family that knows all and can do all and is full of love for one another because who wouldn't be full of love for relatives who can invent things and speak Greek and hold their breath under water for an incredibly long time? Another kind of child reader may totally buy into that.

I think that next week I'm going to offer my Doc Wilde ARC to the home schooled kids who train with me at my dojang. I'll see if they're interested and what they have to say if they read the book. Brian and Wren Wilde are martial artists, like the kids I know, after all. Plus, they appear to be home schooled, too.

By their father, the doc, of course.

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom will be published next month.

Coincidence: A Jonny Quest movie!


J. L. Bell said...

I couldn't recall even a mention of the mom.

Gail Gauthier said...

Oh, she is dead. There was a definite mention of the kids becoming closer with their grandmother since their mother had died. No idea how she went, though. Now, that ought to be a story.