CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 4. . . .September 30, 2016
The “X-tail”s is a high-octane picture book series about six animal friends who enjoy extreme sports. Each book opens with a brief introduction to the main characters. The conventional personalities include Wisdom, the lion leader and “master at solving problems”; Charm, the “cute and bubbly kangaroo”; Crash, the “clumsy, messy, and very goofy hippo”; Flight, the “strong and fearless rocker gorilla”; Dazzle, the “tough and brave bear who is a tomboy at heart”; and Mischief, the wolf with a “mischievous grin”. Also profiled is the X-van, the all-terrain vehicle that Wisdom the Lion drives.
In Ski at Spider Ridge, the sports enthusiasts head to the “hairiest” ski run in the world. While unpacking their van, the animals give a friendly wave to a zebra in a wheelchair, assuming she works at the lodge. The gang climbs onboard a chairlift and watch in awe as a “zoober-gnarly” athlete on a sit-ski performs a perfect landing. When the X-tails later meet up with Rhumba the Zebra, she shows them how to use a sit-ski and invites them to “rip it up” with her. Putting aside preconceived notions, Wisdom the Lion remarks, “we thought you had a disability. But Rhumba, you’ve shown us that you have DIFFERENT ABILITIES!”
In BMX at Thunder Track, Charm the Kangaroo wipes out on a dirt trail. Not only is her bike wrecked, but her arm is also broken. With all of her hopes of winning the coveted Golden Bike at the Thunder Track BMX race dashed, she glumly stares out her bedroom window. Charm gets her cast off the day before the big race, and Wisdom the Lion fixes her bike and gives her lots of encouraging pep talks: “Can’t ... can’t. Yes, you can!” Despite not having practiced (and having recently broken a bone!) Charm executes daring tricks and qualifies for the final round. Conditions are treacherous in the last race. A sudden downpour turns the track into a mud slide, but Charm uses her “famous kangaroo kick to pedal faster.” She comes in second, but she posits: “I had a blast even though I didn’t win! You were right Wisdom - believing I CAN is much better than saying I CAN’T. I just had to try!”
In Surf at Shark Bay, Flight the Gorilla looks forward to a day of riding the waves. He is dismayed to discover that the best conditions are at Shark Bay - home of the Razors, a group of shark bullies. Wisdom the Lion advises the group to ignore the sharks’ “snarking” and teasing. Wisdom counsels: “No matter what they do or say, don’t show them you’re mad or sad.” After driving to the beach, conducting a safety check and preparing their surf boards, the X-tails head into the water. Before long, Wisdom comes face to face with Skulk, the meanest of the Razors. He follows his own advice and doesn’t pay attention to Skulk’s jeers. When Skulk ends up beached on the sand, the X-tails put their differences aside and come to the shark’s aid with shouts of “We’ll be your friends.” In a strangely worded ending, Wisdom notices that the shark’s previously missing front teeth have grown back and concludes, “that must be what happens when you’re kind, not snarking.”
There is nothing subtle about this picture book series. Victor Guiza’s digitally created cartoons are bursting with an explosion of colour and action. Many of the words in the text appear in different sized typefaces and font sizes (like “GaaaWHOOOOMPHaaaaa!” and “ClanG ... ClaTTeR... SmaSH!”) and compete for attention.
The strengths of the three books are the fast-moving plots, the action-packed descriptions of the featured sports, and the informative “Trick-tionary” endnotes that highlight and explain how some of the athletic feats (like a skiing “Three-Sixty Double Nose Grab”, or a BMX “Catwalk”, or a surfing “Sushi Roll”) are accomplished. Less successful are the moral messages that seem forced. In the case of BMX at Thunder Track, the belief that positive thinking can cure all seems a bit oversimplified. At times, the writing also suffers from over-enthusiasm. The dialogue is peppered with catch phrases like “zoober-cool”, “zoober-awesome” and “zoober-sweet”, and there are many exclamatory sentences like “He had planned a surprise for them! ... The X-tails loved surprises and they especially loved skiing!”
Recommended with Reservations.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.
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