________________ CM . . . . Volume III Number 13 . . . . February 28, 1997

cover Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case.

Mordecai Richler. Illustrated by Norman Eyolfson.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Books Canada, 1996. 138 pp., paper, $5.99.
ISBN 0-14-034609-0.

Grades 3 - 7 / Ages 8 - 12.
Review by Deborah Mervold.

**** /4


     Jacob Two-Two considered his father a pal. After he had finished work, he often took Jacob Two-Two out for a walk.
     The next afternoon, in fact, they wandered as far as his father's old neighborhood, which Noah had once described as DADDY'S HARD TIMES TOUR, a trip each child in the family had to endure at least once, obliged only to say "oooh" or "aaah" at the right moments. Now Jacob Two-Two told his father that in the week since the dreaded Mr. I. M. Greedyguts had been appointed headmaster of Privilege House, the lunches they had to eat were either tasteless, horrible, or downright disgusting, and sometimes all three, and he went on to describe a few.
     "Aw," said Jacob Two-Two's father, "you only feel that way because your mother cooks such delicious meals for us. It can't be that bad."
     "Ah, but it is," said Jacob Two-Two. "It is."
     "Why when I was your age, the school I attended didn't even serve lunch to the children. No sirree. I had to get up in the wintry dark, shake out the ice that had formed on my blanket during the night, and make my own lunch. Usually a lettuce sandwich made with one-day-old bread, which my mother could buy more cheaply than fresh bread."
     "Oooh," said Jacob Two-Two. "Oooh."
     "And sometimes," said his father, "I had to share that stale bread sandwich with boys who were even poorer than we were."
     "Aaah," said Jacob Two-Two. "Aaah."
     "You see that building over there?" said his father, pausing to blow his nose. "It's the Stuart Biscuit Company. When I was your age, they used to let us in a side door, where we could buy a bag of broken biscuits for two cents, and sometimes a couple of us chipped in to buy a bag."
     "Oooh," said Jacob Two-Two. "Oooh."
     On the next street Jacob Two-Two's father said, "In winter, we used to play street hockey out here, using a piece of coal for a puck, because that's all we could afford."
     "Aaah," said Jacob Two-Two. "Aaah."
     "And when the game was over, we'd fight over who got to keep the piece of coal, which could be added to the furnace fires that kept our homes from freezing. Now, you, on the other hand, are lucky enough to attend the most expensive private school in town. So I don't want to hear any more complaints about your lunches. As it happens, they are prepared by my old schoolfriend Perfectly Loathsome Leo Louse, who enjoys an excellent reputation as a cook."
     When they got home Jacob Two-Two took his problem to his mother.

If any parents, teachers or young readers have yet to read one of the Jacob Two-Two books by Mordecai Richler, this is a good place to start. His fourth Jacob Two-Two novel is funny and thought-provoking for adults and children alike.

      The humour begins with the naming of the adult characters, like: Perfectly Loathsome Leo, the greedy entrepreneur and children hater; I. M. Greedyguts, the manipulative headmaster and children hater; Mr. Dinglebat, the eccentric next door neighbor and master spy; and Miss Sour Pickle, the teacher who admires Mr. Greedyguts.

      The characters are humorous and predictable. When the children seek a solution to their deteriorating expensive private school, they discover parents are no help. So, they take on the job themselves with the help of elderly Mr. Dinglebat, who is home from a spy mission. Adults who never recognize children in disguise are both humorous and ridiculous. I found I was chuckling at both the silliness of the characters and the situation.

      In their CHILD POWER capacity, Jacob Two-Two and Mr. Dinglebat work toward a solution. There is never a doubt that "good" will win and children will receive the rewards that they deserve. But what is refreshing about this book is that individuals are encouraged to make their choices to improve their own situations; waiting for outside help is not an option.

      Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case can be read alone or out loud to groups, making it a good choice for both school and public libraries. I would anticipate that readers will search for other Jacob Two-Two books to enjoy and share.

Highly recommended.

Deborah Mervold is a teacher librarian in a grade 6 to 12 school, and a grade 12 English teacher at Shellbrook Composite High School.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364