________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


The Surprise Party. (Red Bananas).

Tony Bradman. Illustrated by Martin Chatterton.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2005.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $7.16 (pbk.), $18.36 (RLB.).
ISBN 0-7787-1084-X (pbk.), ISBN 0-7787-1068-8 (RLB.).

Subject Headings:
Humorous stories.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Caitlin Fralick.

½ /4


Then the Mummy family got ready, and set off in the Mummy car. They parked, and went straight up to the elegant mummy at the reception desk.

“Hi there,” she said. “How may I help you?  A booking for a party, you say. Well, I’m afraid we don’t seem to have anything in your name…”

“Oh no!” groaned Daddy Mummy. “I must have forgotten to do it…”


Somewhere between easy reader and early chapter book lies the “Red Bananas” series of which The Surprise Party is a part. In this volume, the Mummy family, the irreverent clan of embalmed characters from Magnificent Mummies, is back for another performance. This time, the plot revolves around planning a surprise party for Grandma and Grandpa Mummy. Readers will follow the family as they embark on numerous episodic misadventures—Mommy Mummy needs a new outfit for the party, while bumbling Daddy Mummy forgets to book the caterer, and Tut and Sis, the Mummy kids, struggle to stay Mum (pun very much intended) about the whole celebration.

     What seems like an innovative premise at the outset devolves quickly. Bradman’s frenetic writing cannot quite hold onto the bizarre world of the book which combines Ancient Egypt with Rodeo Drive. This backdrop helps push the emphasis on consumption and consumerism that runs throughout the book—the dangerous message that family happiness can be bought underlies the story and is helped along by this weird, glitzy setting. Frequent gender and cultural stereotypes are alarming, to say the least: Mommy Mummy’s shopping spree has her claiming that “Daddy Mummy likes me in pink,” and the two pages which are filled with illustrations of her modeling various fashions only reinforce the idea that her role in the book is to look pretty. Daddy Mummy’s dithering is no better. He spends most of the book in front of the computer fumbling over the speech for Grandma and Grandpa Mummy’s big night and cracking un-funny jokes about how old the happy couple is. The narrative climaxes with a confusing performance by the Mambo Mummies, a group of three mummies whose appearance lampoons a common cultural stereotype of South American mariachi musicians. 

     The writing in The Surprise Party may be suitable for young readers in terms of its smaller vocabulary, but Bradman’s narrative is hard to follow. The speech bubbles included in Chatterton’s illustrations certainly encourage an awareness of reading the whole page rather than just the typeface, and they complement the illustrator’s comic book feel. In the end, though, these bubbles only confuse the reader in the face of a hard-to-follow story. Nevertheless, the illustrations are dynamic and capture the pace of Bradman’s writing (whether this is a good thing or a bad thing might depend on the reader’s reaction to the text). Indeed, the pictures are the book’s strength. The bright colour and busy backgrounds will appeal to young readers.

     On the whole, though, The Surprise Party is a disappointment. The big secret held by Tut and Sis throughout the book, a concealed celebratory banner for their grandparents, feels hollow and anticlimactic. The staggering presence of socio-cultural stereotypes, from the celebration of preconceived notions of gender to the lampooning of hearing-impaired grandparents, undercuts any benefit the book might have on a child’s literacy skills. 

Not Recommended.

Caitlin Fralick is a prospective children’s librarian in the Master of Library Studies program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.


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

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