Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker
Molly B. Burnham
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Comic-Novel Hybrid
Nothing is ever quiet in the Mars household. How could it be with nine people and a cat under one roof? And for Teddy, sixth kid of seven and eldest son, there’s nothing worse than being crammed into such a small space. Between his next-oldest sister, who thinks he’s fun to torment, and his baby brother, who seems to take pride in destroying Teddy’s property, he’s about had it. How is a kid supposed to break any world records in an environment like that?
That’s why, as soon as he gets a tent for his birthday, he sets up shop in the backyard. It doesn’t take long for his neighbor, known to all the neighborhood kids as “Grumpy Pigeon Man,” to notice and offer Teddy a job helping in the aviary. He’ll need it, too, because with winter coming and no sign of his household getting any less crazy, it looks like Teddy will be living in his tent for a long, long time.
You can’t see it right now, but I’m heaving a massive sigh. I’m not sure where to begin, but I know it should probably be with something good about the book. You other teachers have been there, right? You have a conference for one of your students, and you know you need to say something positive, but all you can come up with is “he always puts his name on his papers” or “she is always sure to cough into her elbow”? That’s sort of how this book is for me.
Um…it won an award? A humor book award, even. And I guess that’s fair; parts of the book were legitimately funny. Not just gross funny, the kind of funny little boys would like, either, but actual, laugh-out-loud funny. Most of it has to do with the illustrations, like Teddy’s attempt at drawing a pigeon (it looks more like a burnt pudding) or the expressions on different characters’ faces. Awesome job, Trevor Spencer, on your art! There were a few funny gags in Burnham’s writing, too, like the way the twin sisters kept trying to switch places even after being caught for the umpteenth time.
Teddy himself was a fairly well-developed character. He didn’t necessarily change much throughout the book, but he was a cool kid. I liked his dreams and dry observations when things didn’t work out as planned. His Star Wars obsession with his two friends, Lonnie and Viva, was pretty entertaining. Not going to lie, I was excited I knew the trivia they mentioned in the book. The friends were drawn well, and I could believe they were all about the age they were supposed to be (ten-ish). Grumpy Pigeon Man (aka. Mr. Marney) was neat, too. I wish there had been more about him, or that the book had been focused on his relationship with Teddy. Sure, it would’ve been old-school, sort of like a Newbery winner from the 60s or the movie Up. Old man and young boy become tentative friends and impart wisdom about life upon one another. The family remains on the periphery throughout because it’s about elder and child. And pigeons. Fit the pigeons in there somewhere. A metaphor for flying towards your destiny but always having a place to roost.
But instead we get the Mars family. Most of them aren’t too bad; the sisters are there more for comic relief than anything else, as are any extended family members we briefly see. But the parents and the baby brother, Jake. Oh, man. As a kid, I would’ve been disgruntled at the unfairness of the way Teddy was treated compared to how Jake was. As an adult, I’m only slightly less disgruntled…and more seriously irritated. The parents don’t seem to do jack about disciplining their kids unless they get phone calls from school. They let one daughter completely take over the bathroom to sing over and over, so if someone needs to use it they just need to wait. Things get so bad between the siblings that they let their kid live outside in a tent the entire, snowy winter. I don’t know about your town, but here, CPS would be called so fast.
And that’s not the worst of it. Jake, or “The Destructor” (Teddy’s name for him), could get away with actual, literal murder and the parents wouldn’t discipline him. He draws all over Teddy’s books, he wastes the mother’s makeup, he messes around in the tent and lets wild animals into it, he takes over the cat’s litter box so that the parents have to go buy a new one for the cat—it’s unbelievable what they let this kid do with no hint of stopping him. Teddy’s mother actually says in the book, “Oh, he’s too little, he wouldn’t understand why we were punishing him.” Woman, please. The kid is five. When do you plan on disciplining him? Because he’s going to start kindergarten in the fall, and he’ll be a nightmare. When my little brother was four, we lived in a house with a patio. My brother knew full well the consequences of stepping off that patio without our mother’s permission. He never did—I should know. As a big sister, I did my best to get him to do it. Kids are never too young to start learning what it is and is not okay to do. Breaking, stealing, or getting into someone else’s stuff are all on the “not okay” list.
I’m pretty sure a bunch of kids will feel the same kind of righteous indignation as I did reading the book, but they’ll probably enjoy the potty humor, too. It might be a tiny bit young for middle school, but struggling readers will likely appreciate the simpler vocabulary and the illustrations. Many of them will relate to the trouble with younger siblings, as well. Just…put it down a few times to keep your blood pressure in check.
Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker could be a good choice for summer reading, since it’s short-ish, light, and has a decent message. It might be helpful for family or class discussions on justice amongst siblings, too.
- Struggling readers
- Kids who like either Star Wars or The Guinness Book of World Records
- Kids looking for something childishly funny
- Bullying: sibling bullying
- Deceit: characters try to trick adults
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Other Illegal Activity: characters destroy others’ property
- Theft: characters take things belonging to other people
- Violence: siblings hurting one another
- Good vs. Evil
- Physical Illness
- Right vs. Wrong
|Exploration of Conflict||2|
|Consideration of Themes||2|
|Suspension of Disbelief||1|
|Imagery and Description||1|
|Rhythm and Pace of Book||1|
|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||2|