July 29, 2015

Attack of the Toga Gang

by George Bowering
Dancing Cat Books
170 pp.
Ages 10-13
May 2015

Thank you, George Bowering, for bringing laughter and humour and wordplay into my life at this time.  I needed a good laugh and Attack of the Toga Gang provided it aptly.  And for teachers who want to bring poetry, courtesy of officiando George Bowering, former Poet Laureate of Canada, into a humourous plot perfect for middle-graders that includes a variety of hats, peculiar foods, Ancient Rome, a mysterious ring, and lessons on individualism, Attack of the Toga Gang has it all.  It is a complete hoot: funny, clever, poetic, and mysterious.

It all starts when a group of Grade 7 students from Major Douglas Middle School start a poetry club.  In addition to our narrator, Harry Fieldstone, lover of miscellaneous hats and really weird drinks, there is Neville Neatby, leader and innovator; Viv Lemieux, she of the booming voice and copious red hair; Feet Corbishley, lover of bpNichol and sandles-wearing daughter of hippies; and new kid Norm Nakamura-McNamara, who is still to be determined.  The kids meet up at various cafés and diners around town to share the poetry that they’re writing and discuss the nuances of it.
I can’t remember much about Viv’s poem except it was short and to the point and had a zebra in it.  Any time you put a zebra in a poem, you are going to have people remembering it. That’s my advice to all you young poets out there.  Put a zebra in your poem.  Or a kangaroo. (pg. 6)
In between their poetry sessions, going to an odd assortment of  B+ movies and school, Harry likes to play at archaeologist, digging at sites slated for construction.  At one site, he discovers a old ring enscribed with the letters SPQR and, taking it to their wizened university astronomer friend, Professor Purzelbaum, Harry learns that its origin is Ancient Rome.  More importantly, it was the Kauderwelsch ring, that had been imbued with special powers for the wearer who manipulated it a certain way.  The ring had been destined to be used for promoting human progress and well-being.  But then it was taken by the Toga Gang, and they would be determined to possess it again.

Now the kids have to find the means to evade those of the Toga Gang, who seem to manifest in different groupings, while Harry learns of the ring’s mighty powers: invisibility, speed, jumping prowess, mind-reading, etc., each on its own day of the week.  Be prepared for regular eruptions of chuckles as the distinctive group of kids rhyme and reason their way through the muddled subplots of their lives.

For those middle-grade readers who aren’t into the budding romances of YA and enjoy a good laugh at no one’s expense, Attack of the Toga Gang will entrall.  George Bowering’s light-hearted storytelling will delight readers, even old ones like myself, with his play on words, his poetry and prose, and comical take on kids’ being themselves.  Within his droll perspective, George Bowering has a lot to say about poetry, and young people, and life in general.
Then he read from a piece of foolscap paper, and I have to admit that it was pretty good.  I can’t remember the poem off by heart, but it had a goldfish in a blender in it.  And I especially liked the part about the human heart bouncing down a long flight of stone steps.  For centuries poems have had hearts in them, but I had never imagined one so clearly. (pg. 23)
But don’t look for deep insight in Attack of the Toga Gang because that’s not it’s purpose, though a wise teacher would find a valuable read-aloud resource within.  Attack of the Toga Gang is amusing entertainment of the written word and a joy to read.


  1. Thanks so much, Helen! Isn't George the best??

  2. I was a student of George Bowering's way-back-when at Simon Fraser Uni., in BC. I must check out this book. Thanks Helen for bringing it to my attention.

    1. How fortunate for you, Monica. You will love this book. It's so, so funny. And don't we all need a good laugh more than just now and then?!