You would think that with an endless supply of books in the world, the pool of inspiration would never run dry. But 30 reviews in, I have to say that not being able to visit the library on a moment’s notice can leave you scrambling for content. At least, that’s been my experience in the past week, as I’ve found myself in need of new books. My local library has been fantastic about offering a drive through pickup service but it’s just not the same as being able to peruse the aisles with my son, grabbing any book that interests us.
My husband offered to find a couple of new books for us. I reviewed the one, Fortunately The Milk, in my last article. Today’s offering is The Terrible Two, co-written by Jory John and Mac Barnett. The Terrible Two tells the story of Miles Murphey, a boy who moves with his mother from an unnamed seaside town to the cow-laden Yawnee Valley. In fact, there are so many cows in Yawnee Valley that if you stacked them on each other’s backs, they would stretch from Earth to the moon and back again. So yeah, the town’s claim to fame is cows.
Miles’s mom tries to help him to see the positives of the situation. They will finally have a house. Miles will have a much bigger room. They’ll have a yard. But Miles isn’t interested in any of those things. He liked his old life, in his room plastered with maps, in the pink apartment building so close to the ocean that he could hear the waves as he drifted off to sleep. He already missed his two best friends, Carl and Ben. And he knew that in moving, he was giving up the coveted title as the best prankster in his old school.
He barely sleeps at all on the night before the his first day of school at the Yawnee Yalley Science and Letters Academy. Upon awakening the next morning, he’s filled with a sense of dread. On the drive to school, he tries to convince his mom to allow him to embark on a ‘project year’ instead but she’s not buying it. He gets out of the car with all of the new school supplies one needs, and an unassuming composition book that holds all of the plans for previous pranks he’s pulled off.
He explains to the reader that it’s important to establish one’s self on the first day at a new school. You can be anyone: the smart kid, the kid who knows everything about World War I, the kiss-up kid who brings the teacher a gift, the kid who wears shorts every day. But Miles doesn’t want to be any of these kids. He doesn’t want to be any kind of new kid at all. He just wants to be the same kind of kid he was at his old school. He was the best prankster there and he would here, too.
Next, we’re introduced to Principal Barry Barkin. He’s the fifth Barkin to serve consecutively as principal of the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy. In the Barkin family, honor means everything. Principals are to command the respect of the students and that respect is achieved by demanding perfect behavior and attendance. In fact, school has only ever been canceled once, by Barry’s grandfather Jimmy Barkin, due to the blizzard of ’32 and ol’ Jimmy has basically been branded a disgrace ever since.
Principal Barkin rises early that morning to prepare his first day of school speech. But little does he know that he’s about to be pranked by the best prankster in school. But is it Miles Murphey? Is it possible that he’s already concocted and carried out a plan to drive the principal’s car to the top of the school’s steps, blocking the front entrance and threatening to cancel the first day?! How could he have pulled off such a prank within one day of arriving in town? Whether he’s responsible or not, Principal Barkin certainly thinks he is and so Miles begins his first day of school with a black mark on his new-school clean slate.
Miles is paired up with a buddy who will show him the ropes. His name is Niles Sparks and he has a reputation as the smartest and most well-behaved kid in school. But as we parents know, kids aren’t always what they seem. They’re complicated, multifaceted individuals and our flawed protagonists Miles and Niles are of no exception, particularly when it’s revealed that Niles is the greatest prankster at Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy, yet no one knows his secret.
The boys team up to create The Terrible Two and plan the biggest prank either of them have ever attempted, just in time for April Fools’ Day. You’ll hold your breath to find out if they’re successful. Do two young boys really have what it takes to drive a whole herd of cattle, across town, in the middle of the night without getting caught? And if they do pull it off, where are they taking them? Will they be busted, punished, expelled?
This book had just enough good-natured sneakiness to keep my son interested without turning the boys into terrible role models (despite the title of the book). Whether you choose to share this book with your child depends on how you feel about pranking. In my opinion, it was all in good fun and no harm done. There are currently 4 books in the series so I’ll reserve my ultimate judgment until I’ve read them all (stay tuned for reviews!) but in the meantime I suggest you welcome the clever and cunning antics of Miles and Niles into your story time routine.