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Review of the day – M3: Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual by John Hargrave

M3: Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual
By Sir John Hargrave
Additional help by Rob Cockerham, Ted Hammond, and Dusty Deyo
Grosset & Dunlap (an imprint of Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-448-44982-1
Ages 9 and up.
On shelves now

The prank in its purest form is custom made for children’s literature. Pranks are kids’ ways of grifting and over the years pranksters have popped up in books for youth, though never as consistently as you might think. There was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Boy/Girl Battle series. There are the Weaseley brothers in the Harry Potter books. And, most impressive, there is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. But none of these dissect the very nature of prankstership. For that, you need a book of non-fiction. For that, you need something like a Mischief Maker’s Manual. Systematic. Instructive. Utilizing the newest technology in its quest for silliness, this little number is bound to be a kid’s best friend and, in spite of what it may say otherwise, many an authority figure’s worst nightmare.

To prank, to really be a superb above average prankster, is not an on-again off-again proposition. It requires a level of dedication and commitment. A true love of a good joke and a practiced eye. Fortunately, no child has to go it alone anymore. Using the Mischief Maker’s Manual kids will progress through various stages of prankatude. From mild antics like salt and pepper switcheroos to full-blown large-scale productions like faking an alien landing. Every possible component is listed from getting in trouble to utilizing a buddy system. An online component at also allows kids the chance to track their prank ranks and download the requisite badges.

I showed this to a colleague as I was reading it and he responded with, "Well. I mean, is there anything in there you couldn’t find on the internet anyway?" I could have gotten stroppy, but it wasn’t a bad point. Is there? Well, I’m sure that if you wanted to scout about and find every last little thing regarding pranking out there you could. But the whole lure of the book is that this information has been nicely compiled and there’s even a kind of game or challenge element to it. It could have just been a list of various pranks. Instead, Hargrave has taken the time to challenge readers to participate on the accompanying website. The interactive component sets it apart from the pack.

In the face of an inevitable parental outcry, however, Hargrave covers his tracks a bit. It’s rather amusing to watch him try to reinforce good behavior through pranking. Some moments are more obvious than others. For example, at one point we are given a list of the "Greatest Schools for Pranking". Says he, "Make it your ambition to attend one of these exclusive, expensive colleges." So there you go, fellow librarians. Should you get a parent objecting to this title, merely point out to them that it presents a strong case for children to strive to go to Ivy League schools. Who could possibly object to that? Add in his calls for regular aerobic exercises ("If you stay in shape you can easily outrun them") and you’ve got yourself a title chock full of positive values.

And time and again, Hargrave drills home the essential rules of pranking that must be understood. The Prankster’s Code is defined here as "Always be careful, don’t be a bully, be creative, no lasting damage, excellence in pranking, and be funny." Things get a little sketchier when a kind of punishment comes into play. Advice that when doing prank phone calls you should only give out fake numbers "for places where you’ve received bad service," is strangely subjective. Ditto saying that you should leave fake vomit "anywhere it can be cleaned up quickly by people who are paid to do so." Sketchy morality at best. Alongside the Ivy League school bit, it’s clear that this is a title for kids from a certain income bracket.

Okay. So, to be honest this book buoyed my spirits and then let me down hard. I forgive it mostly, but I’m still a little hurt. You see one of the things that attracted me to this title in the first place was the title. M3: Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual. Not The Boy’s Guide to Mischief. Not Mischief Making for Young Men. It was a great, straightforward, no-nonsense genderless title. I thought this was amazing. I mean, I loved practical jokes as a kid. And it would have completely disappointed me to learn that mischief is just for boy-type folks. I was all ready to award this book gold stars, kisses, and unqualified love… and then I opened it up. Ladies and gents, what you will find inside is a book that is directed solely and entirely at boys. Costumes include "the power suit" and "the paperboy". The images of pranking kids are always boys, girls usually being relegated to the roles of victim (deserving and otherwise). The dedicated female prankster will find little to serve her here and that hurt. Seemed a silly way to go too, since you could sell this book to much larger share of the marketplace if you simple conceded that gals like a good saran wrapped toilet too.

The real life examples are the real fun here, though. Things like the story of Charlie Todd who filled a Best Buy store with eighty people dressed like Best Buy employees. And for more recent pranks (like the fart application for the iPhone) the book may not mention them but its website most certainly does. I also appreciated how up-to-date everything here was. Granted, that means that much of this book will age within 2-3 years, but for now we can enjoy when the book shows us how to "Clear Private Data" from a Firefox web browser. Or how to purchase a dead frog off of the internet for that matter.

Subversive? You bet. I dunno how the illustrator got away with the image of a church marquee being changed from "BAKE SALE MONDAY" to "NAKED MALE BOYS" but it got in there. I’m sure that it would be easy to pass this little book by as yet another The Dangerous Book for Boys spin-off, but I think it has more merit and practical applications than that. There is some really good advice here! And sure, the creators messed up big-time when they made it an all-boys affair, but get around that fact (and I hope a bunch of girls do) and you’ve got something fun and one-of-a-kind on your hands. I guarantee that it’s like nothing else out on your shelves today. Not perfect, but a strange kind of necessary. I like.

On shelves now.

Notes on the Cover: The reversible cover is not a new idea.It was used to a particularly fun effect with “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket.”But I think I almost prefer the cover of this book, if only because of the design.Rather than cover the entire book, this slipcover encompasses just the front cover.It’s clever, easy to take on and off, and tidy.

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews: Los Angeles Times


  • The Boston Phoenix gives us an in-depth look at Sir John Hargrave and his sordid prank laden past.
  • Rob Cockerham talks a little about some of the difficulties in making these pranks easy to do and accessible.
  • And, finally, if you’d like to see three of these pranks actually carried out, look no further:

Though, Sir John Hargrave… what’s up with the tiny moustache, dude? Is it a Thin Man thing? Tell me it’s a Thin Man thing.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.