The Fantastic Family Whipple

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Fantastic Family Whipple Book Poster Image
Comically creepy tale of celebrity family hit by a curse.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Trivia enthusiasts will appreciate the onslaught of over-the-top achievement records, which may lead to further real-life investigations.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about resourcefulness, resilience, helpfulness, and loyalty to family and friends. Two of the villains are a giant and a dwarf, leading to a plot thread delving into the issue of discrimination (in this case, against the oddly sized).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Arthur, his new friend Ruby, and his overachieving siblings look out for one another despite their differences. They often have occasion to put their rare talents to work saving the day.

Violence & Scariness

Someone seems intent on killing as many Whipples as possible; the murder attempts are often theatrically spectacular, but some characters suffer real, painful, near-fatal injuries. There's hand-to-hand combat with fists and assorted implements from mallets to butterfly nets. A hamster is the reluctant passenger on a rocket launched by one of the Whipple kids. The previous owner of a neighboring house died when he fell into one of the vats in his factory.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Fantastic Family Whipple is a comically creepy romp with overtones of Roald Dahl. First-time author Matthew Ward concocts a catastrophe-strewn plot that pits 11-year-old Arthur Whipple, sad underachiever in a large family of record-breakers, against mysterious forces seemingly determined to bring the Whipples to a violent end. Mostly comic, over-the-top violence, such as stage productions gone terribly wrong, but there are murder attempts that cause real, painful, near-fatal injuries, such as one resulting in full body burns. There's hand-to-hand combat with fists and assorted implements from mallets to butterfly nets. The family's faithful chef is a hard-drinking ex-con with a gambling habit, which leads to trouble.

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What's the story?

In an alternate world much like our own, except that it's completely obsessed with creating and breaking records, the large, multitalented Whipple family has long been at the competitive peak, nailing top honors in categories from Highest Number of Healthy Babies in a Single Birth to Most Creme Brulee Eaten in One Minute. Suddenly, though, things start to go badly wrong for no apparent reason, as one catastrophe after another threatens to put an end to THE FANTASTIC FAMILY WHIPPLE and their endless stream of achievements. A family curse may be involved, but Mr. Whipple isn't talking. It's left to 11-year-old Arthur Whipple, the only non-record-holder in the family, to figure out who's behind all these disasters.

Is it any good?

First-time author Matthew Ward's constant parade of sight gags, stage business, and preposterous feats is highly entertaining. And while there are loose ends galore at the end of the book, it leaves the promise of many adventures to follow.

Amid the perilous shenanigans lurks some food for thought about, say, competitiveness run amok (e.g. when a character survives life-threatening injuries, many people are more sorry about his lost record than happy about his survival). Sensitive kids may find Mr. Whipple's treatment of his non-record-breaking son oblivious at best and cruel at worst, and wonder how it fits with the comedy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the urge to break records. Are you a fan of the Guinness Book of World Records? What do you think is the appeal of trying to set a new record in some off-the-wall category? Do you feel inspired to set a record of your own?

  • Why do you think books about kids who feel like losers because everyone else in their family has some spectacular talent are so popular? How does Arthur compare with other kids in that position who you may have read about?

  • How are the Whipple and Goldwin parents alike? How are they different? Would you like to spend time with any of them? Why or why not?

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