Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute

By Jarrett J. Krosoczka
96 pages, two-color
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

It’s possible to not be the target audience for a book and still appreciate what it’s aiming for. That’s definitely the case with Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady books, aimed squarely at younger readers. As an adult, you might look at the books and say, "I’m too old for these." I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss them out of hand, though. Sure, they’re juvenile and silly, but I think if you let your inner child out, there’s a lot of fun to be had in these books.

Lunch Lady is known at school for her ability to scoop out all sorts of food and put it on your plate in the cafeteria. Hector, Dee, and Terrence like to wonder what Lunch Lady does when she’s not serving food, but if only they knew the truth: she’s really fighting crime using a series of food-related weaponry created by her associate Betty. So when a substitute teacher comes to school, leave it to Lunch Lady to save the day, the students, and most importantly… lunch!

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute provides everything you need to know in its title alone. There are cyborgs to be fought, and Lunch Lady (whose real name is never revealed) is on the case. Krosoczka writes a light-hearted, slight story that I’d have loved to read back in elementary school. Krosoczka takes the idea of school staffers having secret, glamorous lives that students don’t know about and twists it into a truly silly state. Lunch Lady is forever armed with all sorts of food-services related gadgets, from yellow gloves that let her suction onto the ceiling and hide, to a banana that doubles as a boomerang. She’s, if you’ll pardon the pun, one tough cookie. It’s fun to see her operate with the other lunch server, Betty, as they use cookies for distractions while gathering DNA samples and searching classrooms for evidence; they’ve got a nice daughter-and-mother relationship that comes across well.

The three students in another might have been the main characters, but here they’re rightfully delegated to the supporting cast. They’re almost like a traditional Greek chorus from a play, commenting on what’s going on. Except, of course, the Greek chorus didn’t get captured by bad guys and actually become part of the story in any of the plays that I’ve read or seen. They work well, though, in showing surprise at exploding chicken nuggets, or helping pull Lunch Lady into the grand conclusion as she goes up against the Cyborg Substitute. The plot itself is light and predictable (after all, the fact that the substitute teacher is a cyborg is revealed by the title of the book) but this is a series where it’s all about the journey instead of the destination.

Krosoczka’s art is a light, almost subtle doodle style. It’s an easy-going look for Lunch Lady, almost what a talented school student might have drawn on their own. That’s actually a good thing here, keeping the art style (just like the writing) easy and breezy, and adding to the young and light-hearted feel of the book overall. The addition of a yellow ink to the book is thankfully used in just the right amount; it gives just an extra hint of depth and texture to the book, but it’s not just randomly slapped onto pages left and right like some two-color books do. Better still, readers who might have been scared off by a black-and-white book will have just enough color that they’ll give Lunch Lady a try.

The Lunch Lady books are truly silly, and I say that with admiration and respect. Hopefully there are plenty more to come, because just as sure as the lunch servers try and put gravy on everything, there’s a million more jokes, adventures, and food-gimmicks just waiting to be told. If I had an elementary-school aged kid, I’d be buying them all of the Lunch Lady books. And then, secretly, reading them myself when no one else was looking. They’re just fun, pure and simple.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

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