Lane Smith is a hilarious, irreverent and award-winning children's illustrator and author, with titles under his belt like The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. His first middle grade novel, Return to Augie Hobble, starts out just as one might expect.
Narrator Augie Hobble is a wisecracking, pun-loving kid with some seemingly overwhelming problems. After failing Creative Arts, he’s struggling to complete his portfolio in summer school. Meanwhile, a school bully named Hogg Wills is gunning for him, and there’s plenty going on as Augie helps out at his dad’s rinky-dink amusement park, Fairy Tale Place. Augie’s one salvation is his best friend, Britt Fairweather. Smith puts his humor and illustrating skills to imaginative use throughout by including supposed Polaroid shots taken by Augie as well as notebook pages from Augie’s many failed attempts to complete his art project, elements that kids will relish.
Not surprisingly, the plot makes great use of the amusement park setting, taking many rollicking twists and turns, including Augie’s fear that he may be turning into a werewolf. Just when things seem to be turning utterly silly, they become unexpectedly, completely serious—as in dead serious, with communications from beyond the grave. At first this sudden switch is unsettling, but at this point the book really hits its stride. Augie stops depending on jokes and starts sharing what’s truly in his heart as he begins to dig himself out of a very deep hole.
On his website, Smith writes that he likes “funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child,” and he has certainly created a whirlwind of a tale told by an exuberant, exhilarating narrator. At times there seems to be too many elements swirling around in this story—Smith threw everything into the pot, and perhaps his soup needed a bit more stirring to make all the creative juices and enthusiasm blend together—but kids will undoubtedly enjoy this zany tale.