Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (Lunch Lady #1)
By Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
ISBN: 9780375846830
Grades 2-4
In Stores July 28, 2009


Remember when you were in school and the cafeteria was serving pizza for lunch? There was always a bit of excitement on those days. Sure, it wasn’t the best pizza in the world, but it was still pizza. The allure of the food outweighed the fact that it wasn’t always stellar eatin’. Such is the feeling I got while reading Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the first installment of Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s graphic novel series for young readers. What it lacks in character development, it makes up for with a large dose of appeal.

There has possibly never been a hero with a more wildly contrasting alter ego than the lunch lady at Thompson Brook School. With the help of her assistant, Betty, Lunch Lady fights crime when she’s not serving chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes. When a new substitute teacher shows up to fill in for a popular teacher, his odd behavior makes lunch lady and the “Breakfast Bunch” (a trio of friends who eat breakfast in the cafeteria) suspicious. When Lunch Lady decides to trail the sub, the Breakfast Bunch do the same to Lunch Lady. It turns out suspicions were well founded on both accounts. The result, in classic comic form, is an all-out abandoned warehouse brawl.

There are clever touches everywhere in this book. All of the gadgets are lunchroom-related. Betty has created helicopter spatulas, exploding chicken nuggets, and other tools to help Lunch Lady get the job done. You have to see the stroke of genius Betty achieves with fish sticks.

Not only will the gadgets amuse, but the dialog also has plenty of cafeteria talk. All of Lunch Lady’s exclamations are food-inspired. Instead of “oh no!” you get “good gravy!” I can already see kids cracking smiles at these.

A shortcoming I noticed was in the development of the Breakfast Bunch. I couldn’t quite pin down their personalities, making them sort of tough to distinguish. I’m hopeful this will change, however, as the series continues and the characters of Hector, Dee, and Terrance have the opportunity to become more round.

The artwork and overall design will be a draw to young readers. Krosoczka’s ink illustrations are clean and uncluttered, providing plenty of space for color. I say color singular because, as evidenced by the cover, yellow is the pigmentation of choice here. Variations on the hue appear in every panel, giving the book a nice, unified look.

One thing I realized after reading, and then had to check back in the book to confirm is that Lunch Lady does not disguise her identity when fighting crime. While the kids who witness her taking on the robots promise not to tell, the whole “absence of a mask” thing is tricky. Lunch lady will either have to rely on a lot of people to help keep her secret or she’ll have to do her crime fighting covertly. Or (I just thought of option #3!) the secret identity isn’t that important at all and it’s okay for everyone to know. I’m curious to see how this is dealt with in future installments of this series.

Not an instant home run, but sporting charm to spare, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute is a clever start to what could be a solid series.

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