June 24, 2013

The Sinking of the Wiley Bean

by Margaret J. McMaster
Mansbridge Dunn Publishers
50 pp.
Ages 7-9

It's very difficult to find engaging reads for children, usually ages 5 to 7, who want to move out of picture books and onto the novels of the older kids.  Although large-format picture books can be just as challenging as lengthier reads, many children see moving up to "chapter books" as a rite of passage.  But too often, they select titles about which they've heard e.g., The Hobbit and Twilight (but totally age-inappropriate) or with recognizable elements e.g., movie, TV or game tie-ins (which can be of questionable quality). A more appropriate choice for a transition book between juvenile picture books and novel-length fiction would be the length of a short-story, with age-appropriate vocabulary and a linear plot.  Margaret J. McMaster's Babysitter Out of Control series would fit well on this bookshelf.

In this fifth book of the Babysitter Out of Control series, our young narrator Stewart is in Mongo Tongo with his care-giver, Mrs. Alice Chairbottom, and Colonel Alfred Peabody to organize the seniors' wedding.  While Mrs. Chairbottom spends endless time with the wedding co-ordinator, Colonel Peabody and Stewart go beachcombing, finding a frightening ship's figurehead which Stewart takes back to his room.  Shortly thereafter, Stewart begins having vivid nightmares of being aboard a ship during a terrible storm in which the ship breaks apart.  And, in his waking life, everything for Mrs. Chairbottom's wedding seems to be falling apart just as easily: the weather is stormy; the airport gets closed; the clothes she's selected for her husband-to-be and best man are unavailable; and her wedding cake is ruined during an earthquake.  Without giving too much more away, the story lines are resolved happily and the premise for the next volume of Babysitter Out of Control is established.

I do love the stories in the two Babysitter Out of Control books that I've read, as they have some intrigue, some humour, and some real-life issues. The Sinking of the Wiley Bean will keep the young readers engaged with the shipwreck scenario, Stewart's nightmares, and the ill-timed troubles impacting the wedding.  I don't know if they will be as concerned as I was wondering who Ronald is, a character who keeps driving Mrs. Chairbottom here and there. Without any reminders or explanations as to his relationship to the other characters in the story, Ronald is a black hole to me, not something you want in a book which should be able to stand alone.

Don't let the triviality of my unease, however, sway you from giving this story a try.  Mrs. Chairbottom is the babysitter with whom most young children would enjoy spending time, as Stewart obviously does, leading him into unusual situations and providing atypical adult responses to most circumstances.  Stewart's parents both trust Mrs. Chairbottom to care and nurture his young mind.  I think you can safely do the same.

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