He Laughed with His Other Mouth

illus. by Kurt Cyrus. 304p. (A Pals in Peril Tale: Bk. 6). S. & S./Beach Lane. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442451100. LC 2013034710.
Gr 4–7—Boy Technonaut Jasper Dash enlists the help of his friends to find his missing father in this science fiction adventure chock-full of aliens, spaceships, friendship, and plenty of death rays. Cyrus's illustrations add to this romp's rollicking humor.
Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, builds a transporter to beam himself to another planet. He's captured by the Dirrillill, a creature planning to conquer the universe; only Jasper, friends Katie and Lily, and Mrs. Dash stand a chance of stopping him. The fast pace, oddball characters (shown in black-and-white spot art), and humor in this series-ender will appeal to readers looking for vicarious adventure.
The zany plot—set in the present day—shows M. T. Anderson’s affection for classic adventure novels even as he parodies them for being outdated. In particular, Jasper’s old-fashioned ideas (he believes his giant, nuclear-powered science project is the first mobile telephone ever invented); slang (“gizmo,” “billy-o,” “dandy”); and earnestness (he doesn’t seem to understand irony) are great send-ups of the genre. Hilarious writing propels the fast-paced tale. Jasper tells the being he believes to be his father that they’ll celebrate their arrival on Earth with ice cream (a food Jasper has to explain). The alien replies: “So, to welcome me to your world, you offer me a fluid that drips from the bottom side of an animal, but cold?” A second narrative, told in the book’s footnotes, is a poignant contrast to the main story, and it shows how escapist fantasy—including science fiction—can enrich and inform people’s everyday lives. Readers will readily sympathize with Jasper, who, despite being a retro character, has timeless concerns such as growing up and having a relationship with his father. Jasper’s best pals, Katie and Lily, have their own adventures, first fleeing aliens who come to Earth, and then searching for Jasper. The girls are a great example of friends who get along despite their differences—Katie is the star of her own horror-novel series and regularly fights zombies and murderers, whereas Lily is shy and avoids violence whenever possible. Kurt Cyrus’s seemingly simple illustrations are full of details that add to the book’s humor.
Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, was once famous -- the hero of a series of adventure books and the inventor of rocket cars, submarines, and a bicycle that drilled to the center of the Earth. Now, however, nobody reads his books, and he feels that time has passed him by, even though he's only thirteen ("or about a hundred, depending on how you counted"). For the school science fair, he invents what he thinks is the world's first fully mobile telephone (nuclear-powered and the size of a truck) only to realize that everyone already has a phone in his or her pocket. "I don't belong in this world anymore," he groans, and builds a transporter to beam himself to another planet. He's immediately captured by the Dirrillill, a lumpish creature with many haphazardly arranged legs, arms, eyes, mouths, and ears. The Dirrillill has plans for conquering the universe, and only Jasper, his friends Katie and Lily, and Mrs. Dash (who adds spice to the space drama) stand a chance of stopping him. The fast pace, oddball characters (shown in occasional black-and-white spot art), and abundant humor in this sixth (and final) series installment (including Whales on Stilts, rev. 3/05; and Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware, rev. 9/09), will appeal to young readers looking for vicarious adventures while they await their own. As the narrator says to them, "Life is long, and the world is wide and full of secrets and surprises. This planet is large enough for a million lifetimes." dean schneider

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