Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Fangbone

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?

Is this party safe? Will the big toe of drool be in danger?

It’s a little kid’s birthday party. What could go wrong?

This is a conversation between Fangbone and Bill in The Birthday Party of Dread, the third in the graphic novel series by Michael Rex. To read my thoughts about this low-fantasy parody, check back on Saturday, April 20.


Like many illustrators, Michael Rex learned to draw at an early age and studied at a visual arts school. He had even long been a fan of artwork for children, although he never considered doing it himself. Instead Rex was interested in cartooning and wanted to start his own comic book. As he looked around for a way to make a living off his creations, he began to check out picture books. These felt right to him and his first published book hit the shelves in 1997.  Since that success, Rex has decided that picture books were the right choice for him. As he states at Herman Agency, “What I love about picture books to this day is that there is no set style. Anything goes. The more unique the style, the better.”


According to a blog post last fall about Fangbone, Rex designed the series for boys–especially those boys who hate to read.  He knew that the series was working , when he started getting letters from parents which expressed their appreciation that his books had gotten their son excited to read. At that same post by Rex, you can find a synopsis of all the books published to date, but I’m posting only the summary for book three below because that’s the book I’ll review on Saturday.

Book#3 features Bill having a curse put upon him.  The curse ensures his doom at the hands of a giant beast called “The Crusha.”  Fangbone and Bill are also preparing their entry in the school’s “Invention Convention,” and hatch a plan to trick the monster, and get a good grade on their invention at the same time.

Other fun news is that Disney XD Canada has ordered a full, 22-minute pilot for Fangbone. Rex’s role is that of Executive Producer.  He gets to review, comment, and sign-off on everything.  Rex reports that so far, his comments and suggestions have all been well received. He feels everything has been happening very quickly, as the contracts for the option were only signed in October, and he couldn’t be more thrilled to have such a great group of people working on a pilot for his books.

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 127 other subscribers