Daniel Pinkwater is one of my favorite authors, so I knew I wanted to include one of his books in my database project. He writes for children and teens (and even has a few books for adults). I considered including Young Adult Novel, The Last Guru, or The Education of Robert Nifkin but decided on The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death because it’s writing is slightly more fast paced and complex, and because I had lent The Education of Robert Nifkin to someone and forgotten who had it.
The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death (1982) is out of print, but is included in 5 Novels, which the bibliographical information below refers to.
Author: Daniel Pinkwater
ISBN-10: 0374423296 ISBN-13: 9780374423292
City and Publisher: New York: Farrar Straus Giroux
Copyright Date: 1997
Author’s Website: http://www.pinkwater.com/
Reader’s Annotation: Walter Galt and Winston Bongo believe they are the inventors of Snarking Out, a process which involves sneaking out of the house and going to the Snark movie theater while wearing a hat with a brim. When they meet Bentley Saunders Harrison Matthews, known as Rat, they discover they are mere students in Snarking Out, and are drawn into the world of avocado science, flamenco dancing chickens, alien realtors, and of course master detectives and master villains.
Plot Summary: The only thing that kept Walter Galt from going crazy with boredom at Genghis Khan high school was meeting Winston Bongo, the nephew of the wrestler known as the Mighty Gorilla. The two spend their nights Snarking Out, which involves sneaking out of the house in a hat with a brim to attend the midnight double feature at the Snark Theater. When they meet Rat, she introduces them to her uncle, Flipping Hades Terwilliger, who has Snarked Out six thousand two hundred and sixty three times, crushing their dreams of fame as the inventors of this activity. Their disappointment is soon forgotten when Uncle Flipping disappears and they join in the hunt for him. They meet a series of increasingly eccentric characters, including the chicken man, and have increasingly odd experiences as they attempt to find Uncle Flipping, the inventor of the Alligatron.
Critical Evaluation: The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death is a wild romp with a cast of the fascinatingly insane. The novel’s strength is in its characters and the strange places they go. The plot does bunch up a bit at the end of the book as Osgood Siegerson, the greatest living detective, reveals a good deal of exposition regarding Uncle Flipping and the master criminal Wallace Nussbaum. But Pinkwater is a master of comic timing, if not dramatic timing, and the little details in this book will have the reader aching with laughter.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up
Curriculum Ties: The book draws strong influences from 50s and 60s counterculture, and in tandem with Young Adult Novel, could also serve as an interesting introduction to absurdism or Dadaism.
Booktalking Ideas: Build a giant avocado out of paper mache (at least two feet by three feet). Attach enough wires so it looks like a mysterious computer. Use a pointer to “indicate various parts” and give Osgood Siegerson’s talk from pages 443-444, beginning with “The Alligatron is, to put it as simply as possible” and ending with “powered by the electrical current present in the avocado.” Then describe the book as excellent absurdist humor suitable for people who have ever been bored in school, enjoyed a Laurel and Hardy movie, or wished to give a speech in a public park about English colonial rule or how eating raw zucchini cures cancer. Provide a short plot summary.
Influences from Other Genres: Horror, Mystery, Absurdist Fiction
Challenge Issues: Both Rat and Osgood Siegerson smoke. Rat, Winston, and Walter, all underage high school students, go into a shantytown beer garden and have a beer. They meet strange characters and let themselves be taken into dark and shadowy places with them. The pivotal activity in the book, Snarking Out, involves sneaking out of the house while one’s parents are sleeping. A large part of this book’s appeal is the eccentricities of the characters and the places they go. When I read it as a teenager living in the suburbs, I was disappointed that I couldn’t sneak away to any place in my town that was as cool as the places in this book. The activities in the book do influence readers, particularly those who are drawn to them by the mundanity of their own existences. There are ways to lead an interesting and absurdist life without smoking or going to beer gardens, however, and this book is more likely to instill an interest in old movies and absurdist jokes than to start readers smoking. As always, a parent’s best defense against problematic ideas is to engage in open discussion about the pros and cons.
About the Author: Daniel Pinkwater is a prolific author, having written (and sometimes illustrated) more than 80 books. He also is a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, a job which he got at the suggestion of a woman who does not exist. He lives with his wife Jill, who is also an author, and at least one Alaskan malamute. (More details at http://www.pinkwater.com/pzone/about.php and http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=2101029)