Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book Review: Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes by Jane Yolen

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Puns, good story, great illustrations
Cons: The character introductions in the beginning
The Bottom Line:
Toad exploring space
He and crew on strange planet
Slow start leads to fun

A Grape Space Adventure

The other day, I suddenly remembered the Commander Toad books.  Since these were written in the early 80’s, they were definitely books we found in the library when my younger brother was the appropriate age.  The only title I remembered was Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes, so that’s the one I decided to get out of my library.  While a bit simpler than I remembered, I did find it fun.

Commander Toad is most definitely a spoof on science fiction shows, specifically Star Trek and Star Wars.  After all, the commander and his crew are traveling the galaxy exploring it.  Even though this is the second book that was written about him, the first few pages introduce us to the rest of the crew aboard the Star Warts, including co-pilot Mr. Hop, Lieutenant Lily, Doc Peeper, and navigation expert Jake Skyjumper.

The story really gets going when the crew finds a new planet to explore.  Commander Toad and Lieutenant Lily take a shuttle down, only to find that Lily is allergic to the planet.  Commander Toad still steps on the planet and is immediately swallowed by a giant red lump.  What kind of planet is this?

As if the names didn’t give you a clue, you are in for some grape puns before the book is over.  Since I’m of the opinion that there is no such things as a bad pun, I’m obviously okay with that.  In fact, I really liked it.  The puns and the spoof of science fiction were my favorite part now.  While I don’t think I quite got all of the spoofs as a 10-year-old reading this for the first time, I know I appreciated the humor then as well.

As I said, the story felt a bit simple the first time I read it recently, although I did feel it was stronger the second time around.  The characters have just enough personality as well.  But hey, this is a picture book.  It’s about what you’d expect.

In fact, this definitely belongs in the Easy Reader category.  While the character names will be a challenge, that is about the only thing that should challenge young readers.  The rest of the vocabulary is fairly easy to sound out.

And the illustrations by Bruce Degen really do add to the charm of the book.  They perfectly capture the characters and the situation they find themselves in.

It seems to take some work to track down Commander Toad these days, but it is definitely worth it.  Despite a bit of a slow start thanks to the character introductions, Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes goes on to be a pun picture book.


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