The staff at my elementary school always made an announcement when the local Junior High was letting its students out early. A terrified and excited buzz always immediately filled the classrooms. “The Mark Twain kids are getting out early!” “They’re gonna be waiting outside!” “They’re gonna beat us up!”
Looking back, I don’t really know why these announcements were made, but we all assumed back then that it was to warn us that those big juvenile delinquents would be prowling the streets looking for pipsqueaks to beat up. We were never warned about the Venice High students – presumably they were too busy beating up the Mark Twain kids to worry about us small fry.
I don’t know if any one actually did ever get beat up by a Mark Twain kid, but the possibility alone was thrilling. We’d walk home in packs, trying to look both insouciant and tough but not being able to help looking over our shoulders every two seconds.
The animal students at the Mammoth Academy feel much the same worried excitement when they find the words “We is gonna git you!!” defacing the school wall when they return after winter break. The headmistress explains that humans are to blame and warns them to stay well away from those “wild and dangerous animals.”
The buzz begins - “Humans!” “Did you hear…?” “Humans are scary…” “What is going to happen?” – but school is so fun that they all become absorbed in their activities, especially those involved with the Founders Fiesta to be held at the end of term. The humans persist, not only scrawling more graffiti but throwing snowballs and iceballs at the academy students as they leave school. Finally, the humans surround the school during a huge storm and then break in, forcing the students to flee through a secret passage way. Luckily, a huge model mammoth built as a class project ends up being a secret weapon that scares all the nasty humans away, hopefully for good.
Layton’s scrawling, messy drawings of mammoths and foxes and rabbits (all in school caps, of course) are a funny counterpoint to his dryly hysterical and oh-so-British text.* The humans are barbaric cavepeople who can’t spell worth a darn and mostly say “ugh!” whereas the students are all quite kind and civilized. They hate it when the storm keeps them cooped up at school, especially when they run out of tusk paste and all have bad breath. “Everyone was in a very disheveled and miserable state.”
This would make an excellent read-aloud for kids ages 5 to 7, and a short but very funny read-alone for kids ages 7 to 9. And if you love this, you must read The Mammoth Academy as well.
* The author bio on the back flap mentions that Neal Layton has “worked on a lettuce farm, in a chocolate factory, in a teapot factory, and has delivered papers. Mr. Layton lives in England.” No, really?