A modern version of the Black Death finds brightly colored Mumpley Middle School students sniffling and sneezing, tumbling and leaping uncontrollably.
Sixth-grader Wilmer Dooley hopes that finding the cause of his classmates’ colorful colds will help him win the Sixth-Grade Science Medal as well as the attention of the glorious Roxie McGhee. Alternating Wilmer’s unconvincing journal entries with a third-person narration and writing under a pseudonym, author Allan Woodrow has taken a promising premise to exaggerated extremes. Vomit and snot plus clueless adults provide much of the humor. A gross but believable lunch conversation about the permissible ingredients in peanut butter (“[r]at hairs and cockroach parts”) is followed by a far-fetched Dooley dinner of Soupy Shoe Surprise, the ingredients of which range from lemons and pickles to a comb and a wrench. Food matters in this story. Wilmer’s scientist father, who made a small fortune with the invention of a snack-food ingredient called SugarBUZZZZ!, is working on a new food that will make vegetables taste like candy. Wilmer likes vegetables already. Unlike his classmates, who eat sugary treats, he eats spinach for lunch. And only Wilmer and conniving Claudius Dill, who’s allergic to SugarBUZZZZ!, are unaffected by the plague.
Readers would have to be even more befuddled than Principal Shropshire not to solve this mediocre mystery themselves. (Fiction. 8-11)