No one ever believes Larry, and that’s probably because Larry never tells the truth. But he’s not lying about the aliens who have landed just outside of town. Unfortunately, he still can’t get people to believe him. He’ll have to figure out how to talk to the aliens in order to help them fix their ship and get them home.
The Boy Who Cried Alien
Words by Marilyn Singer; Pictures by Brian Biggs
Ages 8-10; Grades 3-5
Disney/Hyperion, March 2012, ISBN 978-078683825-7
48 pages, $17.99
Singer and Biggs combine poetry and comic book elements in this picture book retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf and end up with a story that has some flaws but still has enough educational possibilities to make it a decent classroom pick. Singer is fairly well known for her poetry—one of the reasons I was drawn to this title—and her word-play is part of the fun of the book. Everyone talks in rhyme and meter, both humans and aliens. But the aliens’ speech is jumbled, giving readers a puzzle to sort out in order to read what they have to say. The puzzle isn’t too hard, just tricky enough that young readers will have to think about it in order to solve it. At the back of the book, Singer offers an explanation, but rather than just stopping at solving the puzzle, she uses the translation note to explain how translating poetry works and gives her translations for the aliens’ poems. Teachers planning a lesson on poetry or those who are talking about translation or learning a language are the best audience for this title.
There is some chance that children will pick this on their own, drawn by the eye-catching cover, but they may find they need help with it or they may find it too slow for their tastes. Biggs’ art is bright and colorful, and the use of speech bubbles and panels makes it easy to follow which speaker is speaking. Unfortunately, though, the graphic novel medium is not used to its fullest. There is some flow between panels but not enough, and there is a lot of text that is presented at once, rather than broken up and accompanied by (or replaced with) pictures. That makes the story a little too static at times, cutting into the action possibilities afforded by a story featuring aliens and a habitual liar. On top of that, the story takes a confusing twist as the townspeople somewhat abruptly shift from disbelieving Larry to fearing alien attack, without enough explanation for the change of heart. I think it was because they saw the aliens, but that isn’t clear from the art or the story.
Parents may be bothered by the celebration of lying, so librarians might want to warn them ahead of time. This one should definitely be show to language arts teachers, though. They are likely to be thrilled with having a fun, even if imperfect, way to discuss poetry, translation, and language.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Disney/Hyperion.