Each month, my friend Jen Vincent and I pick a book to discuss on my blog. This month it was Jen’s turn to pick. I was very exciting when she told me that we would be reading Fake Mustache. I am a big Tom Angleberger fan.
JEN: I am so excited to be reading Fake Mustache to discuss with you this month! This is a book that we’ve both read – and actually you’ve read a few times – but that I really wanted to reread and look at closely as a mentor text for awesome writing. I love Fake Mustache because it’s just so fun. It reminds me of Roald Dahl’s great books and of Disney tween movies. And I mean that with the most respect possible.
COLBY: I think Angleberger “gets” the middle grade reader as much as any author writing today. I’m always game to talk Tom’s books.
JEN: I went out and bought a fresh copy of Fake Mustache just so I could write notes in it. After the summer of Teachers Write, and after finishing the first draft of the YA novel I worked on all summer, I was ready to start the MG novel I’ve had in my head since June. I have so many books and movies in mind as mentor texts for this new book. I’ve been trying to keep them all straight and figure out how exactly I’m going to tell this story. I know it’ll be told from various different perspectives because there are a handful of main-ish characters but I wasn’t sure how to start.
Looking closely at the first chapter in Fake Mustache, I recognized a few things that Tom does to suck the reader in. First of all, he starts by talking directly towards the reader. He refers to them as “you” and I think that makes readers connect with the character who is talking. What do you think of this as a reader?
COLBY: I know that a lot of fourth graders often feel like they are the center of the universe. I mean that in the nicest way. In my K-4 school, fourth graders are on top of the world. To feel like the author is talking directly to them makes them feel very very happy.
JEN: He also tells readers how the whole story is going to end! You would think this makes no sense at all, but it actually does. He tells readers that Jodie O’Rodeo saves the world and that he had a hand in it, too…but he doesn’t actually tell us what they save the world from or how they do it. He gives the readers just enough incentive to want to read and find out what the fuss is about. Brilliant, right?
COLBY: I like that he says that he had a “HAND” in it too. Clever, huh? A lot of times I find young readers struggle when authors let them know how a book is going to end at the beginning. They need support in seeing why authors use this technique. It made for an interesting discussion last year when I read Fake Mustache aloud to my class.
JEN: The whole first chapter also serves as a way to give readers some background knowledge in general. We meet Lenny, Jr, Jodie, Casper, Casper’s family, the town of Hairsprinkle, Sven’s Fair Price Store, and the Heidelberg Novelty Company. He does this without making it seem like he’s telling us all this but he really is. It’s like he tries to give the reader as much information as he can without actually just telling the reader all of this. He expertly mixes it in with the beginning of the story. I can’t help but just shake my head in amazement.
COLBY: I know, right? Did I mention that I think Tom is the bomb?
JEN: He really is! I just started working on a new book for Teachers Write and my plan is to tell the story from multiple characters’ perspectives…which made me right away think of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and the other books in the series. He also does a great job of creating a way to incorporate the different perspectives into the story and then that he is able to write each character so uniquely.
You are totally right that he gets middle grade readers. I’ve been rereading beyond the first chapter and there are so many more phrases or lines where I just have to laugh and then stop and underline and marvel at the fact that he comes up with these things. I have a bunch I’m excited to share next time!