It’s difficult to review this book, because it seems to be trying to do/teach multiple things. The basic premise is that there’s a hamster (his name is Sam, but he’s also called Sammy, and the title isn’t his name, it’s an acronym for Secret Adventure Mission) who goes on secret missions. In this book he ventures into space, eventually ending up at the moon, where he has an important job to do.
Unfortunately, it takes quite a while for him to get there. First he has to deal with his annoying little cousins, then he gets lost. While asking for directions, he picks up a navigator; Fescue T. Fieldmouse, a banjo-playing (at least he was before the aliens stole his banjo), mullet-sporting mouse, who says things like, “Jumpin’ catfish!” and, “Hot diggety dog and pass the hot sauce!” Once they arrive at “H.Q.” they see a slideshow of rather badly photoshopped space program photos, with captions like “Neil Hamstrong sets foot on the moon…” After a series of fart jokes, they are handed a book, “To Infinity and Beyond: The Solar System and You” and told their mission will be revealed once they arrive at the space station. They end up with a homemade rocket ship from “some guy” that Fescue’s Uncle Lou knows. It’s a converted outhouse. Once they’re in space they encounter various aliens, have an unpleasant run-in with a ship shaped like a giant nose, and aliens that are, well, what you’d expect to find in a nose. They defeat them with hand sanitizer. Finally arriving at the space ship, they complete their mysterious mission (hint: their space suits are actually plumber’s coveralls). The book finishes with an interview with Gregory H. Johnson, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force who flew two missions to the International Space Station, and a cartooning guide with Sam’s annoying little cousins.
The art is black and white and in a typical cartooning style with big eyes, exaggerated expressions, and minimal backgrounds. It looks like what someone would draw if they were following a “how to cartoon” book. Not to say it’s badly drawn, but there’s nothing memorable or unique about the art. The text is large and readable and the action in the panels is well-organized.
As I said at the beginning, this book seems to be trying to do a number of different things, but it does none of them well. If it’s trying to teach kids about space and what it’s like to be an astronaut, there’s a confusing mixture of fact and fantasy and it’s very difficult to tell which things an astronaut would actually do and which are part of the humorous aspect of the book. The humor of the book feels forced, with lots of bathroom humor that seems out of place and added just because the author thought that’s what kids would like. There’s a weird thread of personal hygiene running through the story, culminating in the triumph of germaphobia over the snot aliens. Fescue T. Fieldmouse is a painfully stereotyped hillbilly character and doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose, since he never actually navigates and his contributions are the outhouse rocket (which they presumably paid for with his “Velvet Pelvis” paintings) and using “Granny Pepperbottoms Hot Sauce” for their final mission. Plot points are brought up but never followed through, and characters wander in and out of the story for no apparent reason.
This title appears to be available only through Amazon or direct from the author. From reviewing the author’s website and the additional material in the book (which was actually more organized than the story itself) he sounds like a fun performer. But unless he’s visiting your school or library, I don’t think it’s worth the extra effort to find and purchase this book.
Hamster S.A.M.: Odd-ventures in space!
by Dave McDonald
Sweet Corn, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 7 and up