Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: "Big Nate," Lincoln Peirce

By Paul Carrier

Suppose you were named Nate. (No, not Nate Robinson of Boston Celtics fame, but God bless him!) And suppose you were a smart, rambunctious, spiky-haired, Cheez-Doodle-crazed sixth grader with delusions of grandeur who's always getting in trouble at school because the dorky teachers obviously are out to get you.

And suppose you were a chess-playing, dog-loving, cat-hating, budding cartoonist with a super crush on a girl who can't stand your guts. And suppose there was an actual, real-world comic strip named after you, to chronicle your adventures. What would it be called?

How about Big Nate, by Lincoln Peirce? (No, that’s not a typo. It really is spelled “Peirce.”)

Launched in 1991, Big Nate appears in more than 200 newspapers. We’re especially fond of it here in Maine because Peirce attended Colby College in Waterville and now lives in Portland.

Peirce’s new book, Big Nate: In a Class by Himself, is not a collection of previously published strips. Instead, it features a new, book-length story narrated by Nate and heavily illustrated with comics about or by . . . Nate! Anyone familiar with the strip will recognize the cast of characters and the goings on at Nate’s school, but Big Nate: In a Class by Himself serves as an introduction to the strip for newcomers as well.

After giving readers a primer on his family and his school, Nate heads off to P.S. 38, where a friend gives him a fortune cookie whose fortune reads: “Today you will surpass all others.” Nate spends the rest of the day (and the rest of the book) trying to figure out how to make that fortune come true, and finally succeeds in spectacular fashion. (Well, sort of.)

Let’s be clear: this is a kid’s book, as Peirce is the first to admit. But if you like the strip already, or even if you simply recall life as a kid, you’ll enjoy the book, no matter how old you are.

In a recent interview with the Maine Sunday Telegram, Peirce explained that he wrote (and illustrated) the book “to find a way to tell a longer story.” While the newspaper strip is aimed at all age groups, Peirce noted that Big Nate: In a Class by Himself “is very specifically targeted for younger readers" in the 8-to-12 set.

Peirce said one of his goals was to write a book "that I would have loved to read when I was a kid. Kids are so visual. That is how I looked at books as a kid when I went to the library. I'd flip through the book to check out the pictures. This is a book for kids who like comics and who like a good story.”

Kids of all ages, that is. I mean, this book even includes a haiku that Nate wrote for class in honor of his favorite snack, the gloriously golden Cheez Doodle: 

You have Cheez Doodles.
Fresh. Crunchy. Puffalicious.
Give me one right now. 

What’s not to love?