“THE FANTASTIC FAMILY WHIPPLE,” by Matthew Ward, Penguin, $16.99, 400 pages (f) (ages 8 and up)
Take a family with 12 children, including a set of octuplets, and parents whose goal in life is to set world records and there’s the beginning of the Whipple family.
Add members of the Whipple household: Sammy, the Spatula (a well-known gangster who gave up a life of crime to become chef extraordinaire for the Whipples); Mrs. Waite, a new housekeeper; and Mervyn McCleary, the world-record certifier who was so involved in the Whipples’ records that he just stayed on and became “Uncle Mervyn.”
Consider the 49,521 record-breaking feats won by the fantastic Whipple family — all except Arthur, age 12, who hasn’t set a single record — and put them next to new neighbors, the Goldwins, who have record-breaking intentions of their own and the competition begins.
No family, no matter how fantastic, is without mishaps and the mishaps for the Whipples’ turn to a series of disasters as when they celebrate their combined birthdays on March 1 (except for Arthur, who was born on Feb. 29) with a 20-foot high birthday cake. The 8-foot candles are lit with blowtorches and each extinguished with fans. As the cake catches fire and crashes to the ground, rumors of a mysterious family curse unfold.
Matthew Ward’s debut novel centers on a “Cheaper By the Dozen”-type family with incredulous records, like the longest time playing an accordion, and youngest individual to live a month with a wolf pack that bring fame and fortune. Each member of the Whipple family is portrayed as uniquely eccentric, combined into a patchwork quilt of odd shapes and sizes. It's easy to cheer on Arthur, the outlier of the Whipple family, as he finds a kindred friend among the Goldwin clan.
The text resembles Roald Dahl’s loquacious descriptions and rambling dialogue, which could be tedious if it weren’t for the humorous events stacked one upon another. How can a reader not squirm with anxiety yet laugh as the oversized family with a milieu of invited guests gyrate on a glass-bottomed dance floor in a boat and watch a single crack erupt slowly as the boat splits and drifts into the lake.
“The Fantastic Family Whipple” contains no violence or offensive situations or language, and it's a candidate for a good family read-aloud, especially if characterizations are highlighted.
Although some may find the length of the book daunting, many will look forward to a promised sequel and more fantastic records from "The Fantastic Family Whipple."