Raging Robots & Unruly Uncles
By Margaret Mahy
Illustrated by Peter Stevenson
Penguin Books, 1981

Margaret Mahy is best known for her serious, and good, children's books. She is less well known, sadly, for her oddball adventures, although The Blood-and-Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak is justly famous. In fact, if you have not read TB-A-TAOHP, stop reading this and go read that.

Raging Robots & Unruly Uncles is one of Mahy's many verbose and comic lesser-known works. It tells the tale of Uncle Jasper and Uncle Julian. Uncle Jasper was wicked, and had seven sons, all boys, who he was raising to be as wicked as him. Uncle Julian was saintly, and had one daughter, who he was raising to be a proper Old-Fashioned Heroine. None of these eight children much liked these plans.

One day the seven boys, in an attempt to please their dad, create an animated doll using black magic. This would indeed impress him, if the doll did not turn out to be sickly sweet; it does indeed impress him when they suggest sending it to Uncle Julian to torment him. However, no bad deed goes unpunished...

Upon receiving the Practically Perfect doll, cousin Prudence quickly retaliates by building a equally Practically Perfectly Evil robot, and sends it back through the post to Jasper & Co. Then, she runs away. Her father, previously pleased with the doll, soon realizes that it is a simpering sweet pain. Likewise, Jasper's family is quickly realizing that there are limits to how much villainy one actually might want in their lives, and the boys, learning this lesson much more quickly than their father, run away as well.

Well, as the reader might have supposed, the cousins all coincidentally meet up, decide to follow their hearts, turning from villainy/sainthood and spontaneously forming the Television Repair, Fortune-Telling and Suburban Transport Service with Associated Gourmet Parrot Restaurant and Market Garden. Wild hi-jinks ensue.

Raging Robots & Unruly Uncles is a fun book and a pleasing read, but suffers from a fatal flaw. It is short -- 93 pages, which includes many numerous illustrations -- and fun, and silly, but it is not an easy read. It has significant amounts of word play, run-on sentences, and a morass of difficult (but fun!) vocabulary words, including a smattering of made-up words. In short, it is unlikely to easily find its target audience... and in fact, it is unclear what its target audience is.

I would certainly recommend this to anyone who likes particularly silly comic romps, particularly if they enjoy reaching for the dictionary every few pages. The fast pace and high vocabulary level makes this an excellent candidate for a read-aloud, but be warned, you may be asked to explain who Caligula was and define 'apothogem' and 'perambulate'. In spirit, this is probably best targeted at particularly literate 8-12 year olds, although in fact the target audience are those who have read and enjoyed Mahy's other books, especially The Blood-and-Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak and The Pirates' Mixed-Up Voyage.

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