Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review - I Was a Sixth Grade Alien: The Attack of the Two-Inch Teacher by Bruce Coville

Short review: Class jerk Jordan needs to be taken down a peg. Pleskit and Tim come up with a plan to shrink him to two-inches tall. Nothing could go wrong with this plan, could it?

Jordan is a jerk
Let's shrink him to a small size
Oops! Got the teacher!

Full review: The Attack of the Two-Inch Teacher is the second book in the I Was a Sixth Grade Alien series, following directly on the heels of the events described in the opening book I Was a Sixth Grade Alien. The story picks up with Tim and Pleskit returning to school after foiling the attempt to discredit the freshly established alien embassy on Earth. Of course, having foiled an attempt at interstellar chicanery the boys turn to the much more pressing problem of dealing with the class bully Jordan. As with I Was a Sixth Grade Alien, the story is told from an alternating viewpoint that switches back and forth between Tim and Pleskit.

After visiting with Pleskit and deciding he needs to dress more like an Earth kid in order to get along better in school, Tim seeks the help of his neighbor Linnsy in picking out some "cool" clothes for Pleskit at the local mall. This intention is looked upon rather distastefully by Mrs. Buttsman, the newly hired "protocol officer" who is somewhat horrified to learn that Pleskit would like to fit in with the other kids. (Overall, Mrs. Buttsman's character seems to exist to provide a stupidly fussy human adult who can offer advice that is wholly useless for a sixth grader). Given Pleskit's status as a rather polarizing figure threatened both by xenophobic bigots among the human population and having been a target of an alien conspiracy, this visit requires some rather substantial security precautions. Once at the mall, Pleskit muses on the differences between human commerce and what he is used to, which is the one point in the book where Coville allows a little bit of his usual editorializing to sneak into the story with the relative niceness of alien society being touted by Pleskit, especially when he is confronted by a video game arcade - prompting him to wonder if this is what humans do for fun in public, what are they capable of in private. The trip ends with the purchase of some blue jeans for Pleskit and the alarming news that Jordan is returning to class.

Jordan picks up exactly where he left off, harassing Tim and Pleskit, leading Pleskit to suggest consulting with his Grandfatherly One for advice on how to deal with a bully. Pleskit's Grandfatherly One is somewhat crotchety, which is somewhat understandable given that he is a disembodied head that doesn't get as much attention from his family as he thinks he should. But he dislikes bullies, so he gives some advice after a fashion, which leads Pleskit to conclude that he should abscond with a piece of technology from his father's office and use it to shrink Jordan down to a tiny size to teach him a lesson. As one might guess from the title of the book, this plan goes somewhat awry, and instead of Jordan, Pleskit accidentally shrinks Tim and their teacher Ms. Weintraub.

Pleskit presses his bodyguard McNally into service as an emergency substitute teacher to cover for Ms. Weintraub's absence while Ms. Weintraub and Tim hide in a drawer in Ms. Weintraub's desk. It turns out that while McNally is quite skilled as a bodyguard, as a substitute teacher he's fairly ineffective, resulting in some fairly humorous sequences. One wrinkle to the shrinking process is that while the size of an object is shrunk by the process, it's mass is unchanged, meaning that despite being a mere two-inches tall Ms. Weintraub and Tim still weigh just as much as they do when they are full size, leading to more than a few mishaps. Things come to a head when Mrs. Buttsman accompanies the federal school inspector Mr. Tommakkio, and someone turns out to not be who they say they are. This leads to a hostage situation as Pleskit's life is again threatened, which is only averted by some quick thinking on the part of Tim and Pleskit.

As this is a Coville book, the the heroes save the day and villain is foiled, although the heroes do get in trouble for their shenanigans. However, because their shenanigans resulted in foiling yet another plot against Pleskit and the credibility of the alien embassy, they get off lightly. One question that does spring to mind is exactly how McNally keeps his job, since he was more or less complicit in the boys' plan to shrink Jordan, and that would seem to be wildly inappropriate behavior for a Secret Service agent regardless of the beneficial nature of the outcome. On the other hand, the book is aimed at elementary school aged readers, so this sort of thing can be overlooked (along with the fact that a "protocol officer" as clueless as Ms. Buttsman would never be able to keep her job). Focusing mostly on the adventure, and downplaying the typical Coville editorializing about the superior virtues of alien civilization compared to ours, The Attack of the Two-Inch Teacher is a fun tale of silly grade school hijinks layered with some science fiction that adds up to a good book.

Previous book in the series: I Was a Sixth Grade Alien

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