Wednesday, July 20, 2011

REVIEW: Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World

Vordak/Scott Seegert.  (2010).  How to Grow Up and Rule the World.  New York:  Egmont.

196 pages.

Appetizer:  Evil Vordak the Incomprehensible has some advise for all of us "inferior" ones:  How to grow up and rule the world (in case you didn't figure it out by the book's title).  While regularly asserting his superiority, Vordak provides essential information about any potential evil villain's behavior, costume, lair, laugh, plans, etc., as he or she seeks world domination.

This how-to guide includes contracts, quizzes, commandments, scenes that could be acted out, question and answer sections, charts and illustrations that will amuse readers.  (I could particularly see third or fourth-grade boys who have just finished Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants or the Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series loving this book.)  I think this book's varied structure will keep kids engaged.  (Although, every now and then, I did happen upon a page that confused me a little.  Like this one from page 43...

It took me a minute to realize that the "no" and "yes" weren't a part of the dialogue on the page and were instead noting which was the appropriate response.  I would have preferred if the 'no' answer were crossed out or something.)

I did also have trouble with the way gender (and nerds!) were presented.  Scientists were picked on (I would have preferred if they were championed since mad scientists want to rule the world too!).  But much worse, there really was no possibility presented that a female villain would want to rule the world (We have ambitious goals too!)  I was willing to overlook this problem until I hit page 130.  In this section, Vordak was recommending villain-types to include on a terrifying team.  The last addition is:



I know there are some people out there who would say I'm reading too much into this page (I know this for a fact, I occasionally get comment/email spam from such people who not so kindly request that I relax and not take little kids' books so seriously.)  But for real, peeps.  Children's literature is how young people make meaning about the world.  The subtle messages are the ones that can be the most dangerous (as opposed to "promoting evil" which is repeated over and over again throughout the handbook and is easier to consciously critique).  Pairing a supposedly beautiful woman with the suggestion to include her on a team based solely on appearance with the stipulation that she needs no skills is not cool.

I'll stop myself there.

I'd hate to get caught ranting.

For the most part, this is a fun bit of escapist reading for any reader who loves superheroes.  One of the book's greatest strengths is Vordak's awesomely large vocabulary.  While lots of young readers will not get every word, they'll be amused enough to keep reading and (dare I hope?!) look up the meaning of a word or two to add to their vocab to intimidate and prove their superiority to the "imbeciles."

Plus, one of Vordak's commandments involves playing with language:

Having said that though, I could see some parents having a problem with the book.  Early on, Vordak asserts that all people have at least a little evil in them.  Plus, a lot of Vordak's evil advice is on a small scale, like possibly saying, "Wow!  You are one fat cow." to a lunch lady (p. 29).   While I fully believe most young readers will find this hilarious and will simultaneously realize that this is not appropriate to actually say...there is also a small minority I could picture *actually* following through with some of Vordak's suggestions.

I'd still keep How to Grow Up and Rule the World on my classroom bookshelf though.  I would probably mark the offensive "hire the woman because she looks good" page with some explanation points and even a "Not Cool" written in the margin to make my stance clear (and hope my students ask why I marked that page *fingers crossed!*).  I think the book has great potential to get a reluctant reader enjoying reading!  (I'd just also be ready to say, "This book is just for fun!  If you *do* let any of the messages in this book--subtle or obvious--influence your behavior, do the exact opposite of what Vordak suggests!  Mmm, kay?")

Dinner Conversation:

"Greetings, inferior one.  I am Vordak the Incomprehensible.  Who you are doesn't matter.  What does matter is my dastardly decision to add the world of book publishing to my growing list of conquests.  Without even trying very hard, I have created a book of such unbelievable brilliance that it dwarfs all other literature preceding it throughout the course of human history" (p. 1).

"I am tremendously proud of my heartless nature, and if you have any hopes of eventually becoming planetary dictator, you, too, will need to embrace your inner evil.  I'm not talking "break your mother's favorite ceramic egg and blame it on your little brother" evil.  I'm talking "willing to pull the moon into a collision course with the Earth by means of a powerful, nuclear-powered tractor beam in order to get your way" evil.  I'm talking incredibly evil.  Worse than your orthodontist" (p. 2).

Favorite illustration that I will try to find a way to use in one of my classes:

"We Evil Masterminds work long, grueling hours developing our organizations and concocting our brilliantly evil plans, patiently biding our time for the ideal moment in which to strike.  And then, in swoops the Superhero to thwart everything.  No preparation.  No planning.  Nothing.  He simply receives "the call" and off he goes, swooping and thwarting" (p. 73-74).

Tasty Rating:  !!

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