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The Rotten School #1 and #2    by R. L. Stine order for
Rotten School #1 and #2
by R. L. Stine
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Welcome to I. B. Rotten Boarding School, where Bernie Bridges spends his time while his parents travel the world. A key player in the affairs of fourth and fifth graders, Bernie enjoys running all the rackets (raffle contests, games, pranks, schemes) except when he must deal with his rival, Sherman, a rich uppity kid whose obnoxiousness can only be rivaled by his dimwittedness. All the while, Bernie must avoid the likes of Headmaster Upchuck and teachers who have it out for him.

In the first book, The Great Blueberry War, Bernie's jealousy gets the best of him when he discovers Sherman has a watch that comes with forty-two accessories - including a calculator, a DVD projector, and a popcorn machine. He makes a bet that his dormitory, Rotten House, can beat Sherman's dormitory, Nice House, in a pie-eating contest. If Bernie loses, he'll end up being a slave to Sherman for a month. So Bernie must figure out how to get blueberry pies for the contest, and how to guarantee his victory.

In book two, The Smelling Bee, Bernie receives a fantastic package from his parents - his pets. A talking parrot and his gastrointestinally challenged dog, Gassy. Since the school doesn't allow pets, Bernie must keep them a secret from the teachers. But word gets out and Sherman is quick to report him. Bernie must find some way to protect his pets, as well as to avoid getting expelled from school.

R. L. Stine has a knack for writing dark tales for kids. He's authored dozens of books, and his series have become as common-place as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. He's the Stephen King of youth horror and morbidity, if you will. So, it comes as no surprise that his new venture is in a similar vein, albeit more humorous than previous works. What works well in this series is the combination of the gross with comedic characters from Principal Upchuck to Bernie's friend Beast, a young student covered in fur and known for walking on all fours.

Michael McKean, the narrator, grows on the listener. Choosing a narrator for a children's story can be a difficult task, since kids tend to be more easily distracted or finicky than most adults - the voice must really do wonders from the start. McKean's talent lies in his portrayal of Bernie as a well-intentioned friendly kid. Not all of his characterizations work, but his successes far outnumber his failures.

R. L. Stine gives Rotten School that little bit of spunk that can engage and entertain many children, but in particular boys, who are typically believed to be less interested in reading than girls. Bernie and his friends work well for kids because they too have the propensity for goodness, even though they seem to get in their fair share of trouble.

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