When young prehistoric warrior Fangbone reaches “our world” in Michael Rex’s Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian, he tries to blend in with other children by entering a school. This might seem difficult since he’s shirtless, carrying a sword, and from a preliterate culture.
But Fangbone happens to tag along with Bill from room 3G. Bill’s teacher, Ms. Gillian, is unfazed by this new student. When she learns Fangbone can’t read, she just whispers (the lettering gets small), “You’re in the right class. Welcome to 3G. Everyone here learns at their own speed.” Of course, she hasn’t received an IEP or any of the other paperwork real schools require.
We might chalk this up to plot convenience, but the story actually foregrounds issues of disabilities. Bill takes medicine so, he tells Fangbone, “I don’t go all hyper, like BlAaAaAh!” The other kids in the class are eccentric or beyond. Two-thirds of the way through the book, Bill admits to Fangbone that room 3G “is the LOSER CLASS! . . . We’re just a bunch of messed-up LOSERS!!!”
Fangbone responds by dropping his prejudice against meaningless games and helping his friend’s class win the dodgeball tournament. In fact, he does nearly all the throwing himself. All of 3G gets “I’m a winner!” decals. But it’s worth considering what Fangbone would have done if the first student he’d met had been Duncan, the verbal bully. Would his warrior ethos have fit just fine in another classroom?
The theme continues into the book’s climactic fight. Fangbone tells Bill to relax and focus. Bill answers that he can’t because “I didn’t take my medicine!” Yet the story presents hyperactivity as a strength, not a liability. As a monster charges, Bill shouts, “I like it when things move fast!” He, Fangbone, and 3G take down their foe.
In that respect, Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian falls squarely into the recent trend to portray official disabilities as special powers, as Sayantani DasGupta discussed at From the Mixed-Up Files…
(Comments based on autographed advance copy from Renin Publishing Services.)