The Diary of Dennis the Menace by Steven Butler
|The Diary of Dennis the Menace by Steven Butler|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Useful, harmless fun, with all the expected content carried over from the comic pages, even if other similar series can provide more plot and more mature humour.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: February 2014|
Wimpy Kid-styled books, from those by Jeff Kinney right down to those by Jim Smith have always served as a bridge for the reluctant reader, taking him or her into a world halfway between a comic book and an actual novel. With careful design and a healthy picture-to-word ratio the child only used to reading speech bubbles and cartoon captions has managed a proper book before they've realised it. So it makes perfect sense for publishers to allow a franchise to cross over from one format to the other – and this example is the first one to come to my attention. Even if, when you think about it, it seems a very unlikely book in the first place…
Dennis, one of the last century's most (some would say over-) enduring characters, does not seem the kind to want to write a diary. Later on here he mentions spelling tests etc, and only then do you realise he's actually been quite literate, grammatically correct and so on throughout. How unrealistic. Yes, he's filled the pages with splodges, squiggles, design, HUGE LETTERING, and more, but he can actually manage it when he puts his mind to it. We start with him not wanting to put his mind to it, and ignoring the summer holiday diary project completely, but when forced to do it during term-time instead, comes up with the idea of publishing his menacing tips and history for us, the reader, in the style of the least Zen Zen master of all.
This carefully means we can avoid plot, and at times it seems like that is a good idea. Three weeks into term and it's Halloween – no wonder nobody learns anything at Bash Street School. One contrivance later, and it's Christmas. But the longer-form format does mean that the world of Dennis is opened out. Yes, secondary characters can only be given a token name-check at times, but for a fan all the usual menacing from the comics is here – ageless threats of pea-shooters, catapults, and Gnasher drooling on you.
Where this book differs most from the other franchises in the same format is sense of humour, namely irony. Dennis of course has to come out on top, with no real sense of justice to be had. The comic strips are just him, some crazy circumstance, a menace and a punchline, after all. Nowhere can he be too infallible as to get what he deserves, for anyone else to get anything like revenge. This is most noticeable here not in his bravura 'this is how I menace' pages, but in the quiet detail. He mentions it raining badly a few times (well, this is definitely a British character after all), and were this any other series the rain would have come as a punchline after pages of braggadocio, an ironic counterpoint to his outpourings of how brave and unstoppably fearless he is. Here it's just a 'tut' before more menacing tips.
So this is no Wimpy Kid, or a Loser, or a Dork, this is definitely a Menace. And while the book is a little one-note, and can't bring itself to break away from the comics enough to bring a more mature, arch sense of comedy to things, it does serve as I said as a cross-over between the magazine and the full novel. For the school librarian and parent it may well be a 'tut' as well, before more mature books, but this is harmless, useful entertainment, and firmly in the middle ground as regards quality of such similar things goes.
It seems these days all young readers are Wimpy Kid copies, or Mr Gum copies, and the best of the latter recently has been Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers by John Dougherty.
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