Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Life as Reindeer Roadkill

My Life as Reindeer Roadkill, the ninth installment in Bill Myers' Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle series, is an exaggerated lesson in compassion for the Christmas season. Wally McDoogle, our unlikely hero, is a smart, uncoordinated preteen, with a penchant for wreaking havoc wherever he goes. In My Life as Reindeer Roadkill, Wally is visited by an angel in a tux and a top hat, who invites him to a birthday party for Jesus. Wally spends the rest of the book trying to come up with an appropriate present to bring to the party.

Wally has a six-year-old sister, twin brothers whose athleticism far outweighs their intelligence, and friends named Opera (a boy who loves listening to opera music on headphones) and Wall Street (a girl who has amassed a small fortune playing the stock market).

While trying to think of a present for Jesus, Wally's mom sends him on an errand to the grocery store. There, Wally causes a traffic jam by knocking over trash cans, a party mix display, and a little old lady with a poodle. Then, he helps his dad put up Christmas lights on the house, but he causes an explosion when he plugs the completed set of lights into a 220-volt socket. Finally, his family decides he needs some time off and he is free to concentrate on his search for the perfect present for Jesus.

Wally and Wall Street close out Wall Street's bank account and go shopping for Jesus. They buy him a table saw, Air Jordans, a recliner and giant screen T.V. However, Wally's friend Opera has a different idea. He thinks Wally should spend his time doing good deeds for people as a gift to Jesus. Although this is closer to what Jesus would want, Wally spends so much time trying to orchestrate opportunities to do good, he doesn't notice opportunities to help his family. Instead, he decides to pose as a reindeer at the hardware store Opera works at, in order to earn money to donate to charity. Of course, this idea leads to disaster too. When small children climb on Wally the reindeer and kick him with spurs on, he trips, shorts out the electricity in the whole store, and accidentally falls into Santa's sleigh--a motorized four-wheeler. Since the key is still in the ignition, Wally ends up careening around the store, until a crash disables the four-wheeler and sets off the store's sprinkler system.

Throughout Wally's ill-fated present search, he does actually do some good deeds. Mostly, he does these when he isn't trying, but they do reveal his good heart. Wally helps his brothers shut down a popcorn explosion, and he calms his little sister's stage fright jitters by explaining "Lo" and "Behold" aren't names of angels, but just an expression. At the end of the book, Bartholomew, the angel in a top hat, tells Wally Jesus is pleased with His presents. Wally learns that money and good works given out of religious obligation don't make Jesus happy, but "it was your reaching out to others in love that really touched Him."

What I Like: My Life as Reindeer Roadkill is an action-packed, humorous lesson illustrating Matthew 25:40, which is quoted at the beginning of the book. "I tell you the truth. Anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me." The book is funny, wild and fast-moving and is a great match for children (boys especially) who have a hard time sitting still to read. It is also completely appropriate, so a good choice for younger boys (6-7) who are already reading chapter books, or for families looking for a read-aloud book to entertain both younger and older listeners.

I especially like Wally's alter-ego, the superhero Bubblegum Man. Wally writes hilarious episodes in the life of Bubblegum Man on his laptop, named Betsy. My kids got a kick out of Bubblegum Man's adventures. They are also printed in a heavier, old-fashioned font, which also will help keep readers' attention.

What I Dislike: Wally's adventures are very funny, but in an exaggerated, slap-stick sort of way. This makes the books less believable, and harder to relate to. Many of the supporting characters, though memorable, are not developed well. Again, this makes it harder to relate to the characters or care about their fate.

I also wish Wally wasn't so sarcastic with his brothers. He is always putting down their intelligence and making snide remarks. At the end of the book he helps them and is more positive about their place in the family, but since we try to enforce a "no-put-downs" rule at our house, I didn't like Wally's attitude.

Overall Rating: Good

Age Appeal: 8-12

Publisher Info: Thomas Nelson, 1995; ISBN: 978-0-8499-3866-5; Paperback, $6.99

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