Friday, January 23, 2009

Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang

I'm not quite sure what to make of Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (illustrations by Fritz Wegner, who I know for The Little Cat Baby).

On the one hand, I feel compelled to give it points for being such an odd, funny little book. The situations in the story become crazier and crazier, building on hilarious horrors like a children's prison with a Happy Nightmare Hour and an agent of evil who secretly puts puzzle pieces in the wrong boxes, so no one can ever solve them. Richler also plays on children's delight in stories where most grown-ups are villainous and must be outwitted by resourceful kids (think Roald Dahl). And I love the "reveal" with the Hooded Fang at the end.

On the other hand, I keep wondering about Richler's audience. The 1975 New York Times reviewer claimed, "I haven't the vaguest idea who it's written for and don't care," but I want to know who the target age group is. suggests a reading range of 9 to 12. Jacob Two-Two, however, is is only "two plus two plus two" years old, and protagonists are rarely younger than their intended readers, so I would assume that the readers are meant to be those who most identitfy with Jacob's inability to "ride two-wheeled bicycles, dial a telephone number, whistle, do joined-up writing, play checkers, and catch a ball." Yet the reading level and humor of the book seem beyond most six-year-olds. The book could be read aloud (it seems to written for that purpose), but some of the things that would be funny to an eight-year-old would still be confusing to a six-year-old (i.e. dream sequences that aren't explicitly explained and fears of a real court that might lock up children for accidentally insulting "big people").

Ah. I have just found a review of Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur (the sequel to The Hooded Fang) that recommends pushing the reading age up to 9 because of the cynical humor of the book, particularly in regard to authority figures.

Apparently, none of my concerns have kept Jacob Two-Two from popularity. I was surprised to find a recent television series based off of Jacob Two-Two, as well as two movies, and, of course, the rest of the book series.

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