November 16, 2018

The Almost Epic Squad: Mucus Mayhem

Written by Kevin Sylvester
Illustrated by Britt Wilson
Scholastic Canada
187 pp.
Ages 8-13
September 2018 

In a hospital nursery in Dimly, Manitoba thirteen years earlier, a storm overloads the emergency lighting system and four babies are showered with the glowing dust from the reidium bulbs (the once famous Dimly Bulbs).  Four babies, four characters, four books.  This is Baby Flem's story. 

Baby Flem is actually Jessica Flem, an extraordinary gamer of Gang of Greats who is bizarrely afflicted with allergies. The thirteen-year-old, whose nose had been affected in the accident, must use copious tissues as well as her puffer, to relieve her congestion. Turning 13, Jessica is prepared for her annual checkup and bizarre questioning by Dr. Fassbinder, now of the Insitut de l'ennui, and another superfluous visit from her "babysitter" Garvia Greep who gifts her with a diary in which to chronicle her "changes."
Her voice sounded sickly sweet like a snake trying to do a Taylor Swift imitation. (pg. 25)
Dr. Fassbinder's questions about magic and flying and other weird stuff may seem outrageous but not as crazy as the small green gummy-like man who appears amidst her used tissues to sweep them up. Dr. Fassbinder doesn't seem too flummoxed by the green janitor who grows as Jess uses more tissues but disappears when finished, though her only friend, Cliff Snuffington, is fascinated by her "snot golem." (Of course, he's the guy who collects her used tissues, calling them "ori-gummy creations" and gathers them in plastic sandwich bags for his collection.)

Then the really weird stuff starts happening. You're probably wondering how things could get any weirder.  Well, Jess's notes begin disappearing from her diary; she discovers a dossier about her situation; her parents disappear; an old blimp manned by Garvia Greep starts pursuing them; a talking lab mouse named Algernon comes to their aid; and Jess tries to control her mucus-transforming power. And all the while she is participating in a Game of Greats tournament, aiming to reach Grand Master.

Transforming mucus into creatures to do your bidding, whether cleaning or fighting bad guys, may not exactly be a superpower all would aspire to have but it's completely appropriate for a young teen of the The Almost Epic Squad. (We'll have to wait for Books 2, 3, and 4 by Ted Staunton, Lesley Livingston and Richard Scrimger, to learn about the almost epic superpowers of the remaining thirteen-year-olds. See below for details.) Mucus Mayhem is an elevated Captain Underpants for the middle grade set. The humour is slightly gross but always clever, with a splash of the supernatural and filled with the action of chases, mad science and nefarious plots. The irreverence of Kevin Sylvester's premise will freak out and amuse readers to no end. And his punning and crackerjack writing will have everyone giggling with its tongue-in-cheek sauciness.
My head was swimming. But then my nose completely jammed and I began my tissue tango–nose, tissue, garbage basket. Or, more accurately, floor. Nose. Tissue. Floor. Repeat. Cha-cha-cha. (pg. 25)
Illustrator and cartoonist Britt Wilson's black-and-white cartoons pepper the story and will grab a few more readers who love artwork to help move the story, though Mucus Mayhem is already a zippy read of laughs and ickiness.
From The Almost Epic Squad: Mucus Mayhem by Kevin Sylvester, illus. by Britt Wilson
Fortunately, with additional titles in the series slotted for January (What Blows Up by Ted Staunton), May (Super Sketchy by Lesley Livingston) and September (Irresistible by Richard Scrimger) of 2019, it looks like The Almost Epic Squad will be tickling funny bones for a while.
Covers of The Almost Epic Squad books (covers not finalized for Super Sketchy and Irresistible)

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