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May/June 2010
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Alvin Steadfast on Vernacular Island, by Frank Jacobs (1965)

THESE PAGES tempt the writer to be cleverly snide, ironic, or cynical about the books we present, and it's quite nice to find one you can be enthusiastic about.

Written by Mad Magazine's Frank Jacobs and published by Dial in 1965, this little book is a gentle spoof of the post-Victorian "boys' books" with resolute young heroes inventing or exploring (or both). Here, Our Hero travels the titular island with Dr. Thaddeus Cranshaw, searching for the Doubt.

Yes, it's a critter, and along with the Standing Ovation, the Running Commentary, and the Appropriate Gesture (this being Vernacular Island, remember) is part of the indigenous population, all wonderfully depicted by Edward Gorey, with nary a tennis shoe or fur coat to be seen.

Jacobs's delight in wordplay was one of the strongest characteristics of his work for Mad and is the best reason to spend a quiet hour with this little story. It's not the only one, though. Alvin Steadfast is filled with good-natured whimsy, gleefully conceived and described beasts (in addition to those listed above, we encounter the Glowing Report, the Small Wonder, and the Ill Omen), and a story elevated above the level of mere punning by Jacobs's obvious affection for the very material he lampoons here.

The story has all the necessary elements: a problem to be solved, difficulties met and conquered, characters driven by purpose and determination who win out against all odds, and even a Conditioned Reflex.

You'll have fun with this one, I promise you, and you'll have as much fun reading it to your kids.

—Bud Webster

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