Allison's Book Bag

Fangbone: The Birthday Party of Dread by Michael Rex

Posted on: April 20, 2013

Over the past few years as a blogger, I have read several books targeted at reluctant readers. Far too many of them have felt dumb-downed with simplistic plots, one-dimensional characters, and limited vocabulary. Don’t our struggling readers deserve better? Thankfully, there are exceptions, including my latest read: The Birthday Party of Dread by Michael Rex. This book is the third installment in the popular Fangbone Third-Grade Barbarian series, which has a basic premise that outrageously weird.

“Long ago, in the faraway word of Skullbania, the wicked wizard Venomous Drool tried to conquer and ruler its people.” The barbarians who defeated the evil wizard cut him into pieces. Ever since, the wizard’s followers have been collecting those parts with the hopes that they can restore him to power. Finally, they’re missing only one piece: the wizard’s big toe. The toe is under the protection of our barbarian hero, Fangbone, who has hidden it in our world. Yes, I know that’s a ridiculous idea. If you’re anything like me, by now you’re thinking, “No way will I enjoy these books.” But, trust me, the third book at least is as funny, wacky, and creative as that plot idea.

As with many books for reluctant readers, The Birthday Party of Dread runs rampant with adventure. First, Drool sends another wizard to attack Fangbone and his friend Bill at a child’s party. The next morning, Bill awakens to discover that the wizard has been cursed by the mark of the Crusha. That means he is now the monster’s death target. Oh, and incidentally, only one person has ever escaped this curse. On the way home later that day, while Fangbone is trying to encourage Bill with the story of Stoneback who never gave up, the two are attacked by a turtle gator. Yet unlike many other books for reluctant readers, The Birthday Party of Dread also has normal, everyday moments. To name one: the boys attend school where third-graders are assigned to present a new invention to their classmates. This year, something new is added. Students must also write a persuasive argument about why their invention is needed.

Fangbone3rdGradeWhat balances out all this danger and routine is the humor. Some of it comes in the form of irony, which is actually a higher level literary device, and so it’s surprising to find it in a book written for struggling readers. One example of irony is near the start, when warriors from Skullbania encourage each other to have hope. “If anyone can escape the wrath of Crusha, Fangbone can,” says one warrior, as he flees from followers of Venomous Drool who wish to lock up Skullbania’s warriors. The other responds, “Yes, I am sure he fighting a great battle right now!” Turn the page and—Fangbone is shown arguing with Bill, who wants to teach him a new dance. Other times the humor arises from daily conversation, to which many students will relate. One example is in the classroom, right after the announcement about the new written component of the invention assignment. One kid asks, “Why did they ruin the invention convention?” When the teacher tries to deny their accusation, several others chime in to call the new rule: “harder” “lamer” and “stupider”. Trust me, those kids could have been my students.

On his blog, Michael Rex writes that Fangbone is aimed at boys, particularly those who hate to read. He knew that the series was working, when he started getting letters from parents who expressed their appreciation that his books had excited their sons and motivated them to read. What makes me recommend The Birthday Party of Dread, however, is not that my reluctant boy readers like it. Rather, it’s the fact that this middle-age woman also enjoyed it. C.S. Lewis once contended, “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.” As a resource teacher and an avid reader, I might venture to add this corollary that, “A story which is enjoyed only by reluctant readers is a bad children’s story. The good ones will appeal to all.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to hunt down the first two books in the Fangbone series.  Given that they’re almost always checked out, wish me luck!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

4 Responses to "Fangbone: The Birthday Party of Dread by Michael Rex"

Hello. Thank you so much for the thoughtful review. It’s very rewarding to have someone look so carefully at my work. Have a great day and keep up the great work on the blog.

Mike Rex

You’re welcome! Today my group of reluctant boy readers started their final reading unit for this school year. I allowed each student to pick their book of choice from a pile of graphic novels. The student who picked Fangbone had soon passed it around for the others to see, who were asking me if they could read it after him. You may end up with some avid fans in my class. 🙂

Great review and the book looks great too.

BTW–I have 7 giveaways going on at my site this week if you are interested in stopping over and checking them out. Hope you have a lovely week!

Diane 🙂

That’s a lot of giveaways! I entered a couple of them. 🙂

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