I appear to be on some juvenile testosterone jag, as I ponder Secrets of a Lab Rat: No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay). The incidents of grossology are beginning to add up and meld together. Is there a trend? Inspired by the Wimpy Kid, maybe? This series, by Trudi Trueit, introduces us to one Scab McNally, a 4th grader with impulse control issues. He's got a twin sister, Isabelle, of whom he is not terribly fond, and a best friend named Doyle. He's happy fiddling with ingredients to solve problems particular to 4th graders, like a broccoli-eating robot or an appetizingly flavored (licorice) toothpaste. He's been searching for the critical ingredient of his sister-repellent when he's picking up Doyle's dog's poo and has his Eureka! moment.
Friend Doyle is the brains of the operation and immediately begins marketing Isabelle's Smell to other boys needing repellent of one kind or another. Scab is thrilled, since he's making enough money to maybe buy a dog -- which he really, really wants. But then Doyle demands part of the proceeds, Isabelle finds out what's going on, and Scab's backpack -- full of the repellent -- gets crushed. Uh-oh.
Scab narrates his story and he's a pretty appealing kid. His heart's in the right place, but he mostly leaps before looking. He's got a good sense of humor, even if it's a little potty oriented. I think these stories have a significant amount of boy appeal, and they are for less skilled readers than the Wimpy Boy books.
The audiobook is nicely done as well. I believe that the book uses what I'll call the Eyewitness approach to fiction: plenty of illustrations and boxed text in addition to the actual story. The format doesn't always work well in audio, but -- although we're missing the pictures -- the publisher has provided an aural cue whenever we're about to hear something that's not directly related to the story. These can be "Scab's tips" or lists (of ways to irritate his sister, or failed experiments, etc.). The bell cue fulfills its function very well. The story is brief enough that this never gets annoying, and I certainly never felt like the asides were keeping me from the story.
Oliver Wyman is the reader. I've heard him read a couple times: Bird Lake Moon and The Glitch in Sleep. He's very skilled at impersonating this nine-year-old boy, reading with lots of expression and humor. I never felt like I was getting remedial reading here -- Wyman keeps the pace of the story moving and gives some vivid characterizations to a bunch of elementary school boys (not an easy thing to do). He maintains Scab's mostly cheery outlook, and I heard genuine longing and desperation in his voice when he thinks about the dog.
Good family listening ... when your family is on the young side. Despite the poop focus, I'm glad I listened to this.