To this day, I can not fathom the popularity of Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia. Many might try to blame this on my age, or a lack of love for fantasy or adventure. The truth, however, is because I grew up reading books by authors like Daniel Pinkwater, and have since then passed up the painfully melodramatic in preference of the touchingly absurd.
This collection of young adult fiction by Daniel Pinkwater offers a generous sampling of the author's favorite subject matters. Aliens, misfits, weird people, rebellious students, and fat men all have places of honor among these tales.
In Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars, Leonard Neeble is such an outcast at school that even the nerds make fun of him. Just when he's given up hope on ever being happy, along comes Alan Mendelsohn, a new kid who seems to enjoy annoying teachers and blowing off the cool kids. Leonard and Alan become quick friends, and in no time at all Alan is showing Leonard how to skip school, smoke cigars, lift objects with his mind, contact alien races, and learn to enjoy who he is without the approval of others.
Slaves of Spiegel, simply put, is about a race of fat people that forces other races into a cooking contest, while The Snarkout Boys are a group of young lads who "snark out" at night and have many bizarre adventures. The Last Guru, is about, well, the last guru. Go figure.
My personal favorite, however, and the grand example of Daniel Pinkwater's bizarre brand of genius, is Young Adult Novel. The story revolves around Wild Dada Ducks, a self-proclaimed dadaist group consisting of Charles the Cat, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), The Indiana Zephyr, Captain Colossal, and Igor. They spend their time performing dadaist plays and acts of pointless revolution at their high school, and writing parody young adult novels featuring the fictional character Kevin Shapiro. But when they discover that there actually is a student in the school named Kevin Shapiro, they immediately take him under their wing despite his protests, ignorant to the possibility that their own creation might rebel against them. After all, that is dada.
Very few children's authors, past or present, can successfully inject this much original wackiness into their stories while simultaneously teaching much needed life lessons that many books never touch on. Granted, not all of his young adult novels are meant to inform, but even the ones meant purely for entertainment can't help but leave you feeling better for the experience. Children, young adults, and even some grownups could do with a little Pinkwater influence.