Victor Shmud, Total Expert: Let’s Do a Thing. Victor Shmud, Total Expert: Night of the Living Things by Jim Benton. Scholastic, 2017, 2018.
Victor is an expert at everything he puts his mind to, from makeovers to intergalactic space battles to instrument designer. He does this things with frequent input from his duck, Dumpylumps, and more occasional help from his friend Patti. Although Victor’s self-confidence is boundless and things always end well, it’s usually through things going spectacularly badly first.
In the first book of this new early chapter book series from hit author Jim Benton, Victor’s is excited about his new makeover potion, the results of which seem not so great to the outside observer. Then, Dumpylumps expertise with a space battle game on Patti’s phone attracts the attention of an alien general, who thinks that Victor is the expert. And Victor, of course, believes that he is an expert at everything.
In the newest book of the series, Victor as musical instrument expert creates an instrument that turns adults into moaning, groaning zombies. Will Victor realize what he’s done? Perhaps with the aid of kindergarteners strapped to his feet, he’ll be fast enough to think of a solution before it’s too late.
The books are chock full of illustrations by the author, at least one on every page, which add a lot to the humor. They often showing a reality that’s quite different from what Victor thinks it is, as well as illustration his imaginations. Most of the humor is slapstick, including potty humor as well as some that felt unfortunately like fat or age shaming, when the janitor, Mr. Plumporski, does beauty poses that show off his pot belly or Victor describes his plans to marry his grandmotherly teacher. I don’t actually have much patience for overconfident boys myself (one of the reasons Eragon didn’t work for me.) I would have liked to see more of level-headed Patti! But I do appreciate that while Victor never loses his self-confidence, the story also makes it clear that his “expertise” often causes serious problems. I also have a son who, even when first learning to read, only wanted to read science fiction or fantasy. There are so few speculative fiction early chapter book series around that this will be a welcome addition to libraries everywhere.
You could try The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass or the Sam Silver: Undercover Pirate series by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler for more action-oriented early chapter books, both for slightly more advanced readers.
Thanks to the publisher, who sent me copies of these books for review.