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Ant Farm by Simon Rich

February 10, 2021

Ant Farm features short humorous vignettes that poke fun at everyday situations and objects, such as the label of a candy bar, which “may or may not contain peanuts.” Have you ever wondered what ants trapped in an ordinary ant farm feel? Have you ever thought about getting a job at the Crayola company? All of these hypotheticals and more will be answered in Simon Rich’s book, Ant Farm. 

Many of these vignettes are based on the author’s perspective as a child: for instance, “a day at UNICEF headquarters as i imagined it in third grade” (every title is written in lowercase) is the author as a third grader, dreaming up a picture of the “evil king of Halloween, UNICEF,” who tricks kids into gathering money for him. Oftentimes there isn’t a specific perspective to connect with, as many of the vignettes are written as screenplay scripts, like “i still remember the day i got my first calculator.”

ME: What do these things do?

TEACHER: Simple operations, like multiplication and division. 

ME: You mean this device just…does them? By itself?

TEACHER: Yes. You enter in the problem and press equal.

ME: You…you knew about this machine all along, didn’t you? This whole time, while we were going through this…this charade with the pencils and the line of paper and the stupid multiplication tables! I’m sorry for shouting…it’s just…I’m a little blown away.

Others are written simply as two characters talking, like in “ant farm.” 

—All right, men, listen up. As you know, we’ve built seven tunnels and we still haven’t found a way through the glass. I can tell you’re discouraged and I can’t blame you. Tunnel 7 was our most ambitious project to date and you all risked your lives to make it happen. But rest assured, we’ll be out of this hellish wasteland soon enough. I have a plan.

—What is it? What’s the plan?

—An eighth tunnel. Through the sand.

—I don’t know, sir…we’ve been digging tunnels ever since we got here. We always end up hitting glass. We lost ten men on the last tunnel: Brian, Jack, Lawrence—

—I know their names.

However, there are recurring characters throughout the book: Seymour, the sweet, clueless kid who just attracts unfortunate attention; the teacher, who is blunt and bored with life; and God, ruler of them all, who occasionally abuses his power.

My experience with this book was a great one, and I devoured it quickly, often re-reading chapters because they were so relatable. The author finds so many everyday situations to make fun of and add new life to. There were chapters that I found hilarious because the content Rich was writing about was in my life as well, and even I didn’t realize it was until I read his take on it! The chapters are the perfect length: not too short to leave out details, but not too long, so the author leaves space for the reader to dream up other scenarios. 

I would rate this book a ten out of ten and would recommend it to teens or tweens with an older sense of humor, because I found the situations and humor young adult, although this book is relatable for all ages. The author has written several other books as well, including Free Range Chickens and Hits and Misses, both of which I haven’t personally read but am excited for. Readers will be fully engaged and fascinated by Ant Farm and will come away with a sense of satisfaction.


Random House, 160 pages

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray

February 9, 2012

Miss Teen Dream contestants stuck on an isolated tropical island after a horrific plane crash: as if beauty pageants didn’t have enough drama. That’s the idea behind Libba Bray’s novel Beauty Queens, published in 2011. It starts with a word from the Corporation, reassuring us that this is a happy story, despite some of girls having their “living options curtailed.” And in then. true Bray fashion, it actually is a highly humorous novel.

A contemporary parody of Lord of the Flies, Beauty Queens starts out with fifty beauty pageant contestants on a plane to the forty-first annual Miss Teen Dream pageant. Suddenly, their plane isn’t flying to Paradise Cove anymore, but diving towards a smallish island, its right engine in flames and one of the girls leading the rest of the beauty queens in a song about Jesus being her copilot. Once the few living pageanters dazedly drag themselves out of the burning wreckage—no adults make it, of course—it’s a matter of surviving until rescue. Along with competing for the best tan, because you never know when the shmexy pirates are gonna show up, they’re surprisingly adept at survival. But there might be something on this island more ominous than having to eat grubs and battle giant snakes (duh duh DUH).

Okay, I know the plot sounds stupid. But there are so many important themes in this book, it’s hard to keep track of them. As the third-person narrative jumps from one beauty queen to the next, Bray explores themes such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and almost every family issue a kid can experience, but without the angst and drama of books that focus solely on those subjects. This novel is a serious critique of society, disguised as a hilarious parody of a classic. And for that I rated it an absolute ten.

I’ve read all 390 pages of it twice, the first time racing along with the story and the second time a bit slower, taking in everything and giving myself time to reflect. Beauty Queens is, in fact, a relatively fast read, one I’d recommend to anyone, boy or girl, which may be surprising considering the cover of the hardcover copy. But it’s a brilliant concept and there’s not a boring page in the book. Go Sparkle Ponies!

Scholastic Press, 390 pages

Sam (who is of the x chromosome)

Read more about this title on Amazon.com

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