Many people have asked me why I don't write "negative" reviews. My answer is that there are too many good books to critique, and it's a waste of time and space. When I receive a book to review that is not to my liking, my usual procedure is to give it away or ignore it.
This week's column is an exception to the rule.I wanted to ignore "The Automatic Horse," but the author's name, L. Ron Hubbard, kept returning to my mind. It didn't make sense to me why someone like Hubbard would write a book and pass it off as something for young readers, particularly when the story was so blatantly lacking in literary quality and contained a message that was invalid.
Perhaps it was because someone was cleaning out his files - the story was written in the '40s - and wanted to print the book as the first entry into the children's book market for Bridge Publication.
Whatever the reason, "The Automatic Horse" is a sappy book!
The story is about Gadget O'Dowd, who creates special effects for movies in Hollywoodland during the 1940s. When Gadget is commissioned to build a lifelike mechanical horse, he allows his own "dream project" to deter him, and he gets into real trouble.
With all the grammatical errors, clumsy dialogue, dialect and superfluous and stereotypic characters, this is not a book for young readers but an elongated tale of braggadocio. The intended humor is not effective. The plot rambles without focus or theme.
What even makes this book less appealing than all that is the "reader's note" at the beginning:
"In reading this book, be very certain you never go past a word you do not fully understand . . . "
Whoops! This story suddenly becomes a lesson in word attack skills, and, I might add, erroneously. One of the first things we teach young readers is that decoding words through context clues (reading around the word to find its meaning) is one of the best and most effective ways to read. Looking up each word and phrase in a dictionary (in this case using a glossary at the end of the book) is a most tiresome and defeating process if one is to enjoy a story. Especially a story about a magic horse.
What's really inconsistent is that the "reader's note" itself contains more difficult words than those in the story that are marked for glossary study. How is the reader able to get through the "note" to grasp the strong message: The onlyreason a person gives up a study or becomes confused or unable to learn is because he or she has gone past a word that was not understood.
Scott E. Sutton's immature illustrations, which lie somewhere in the area of cartoon, are flat and add little to the text. They, too, are probably meant to be humorous but fail.
"The Automatic Horse: An Adventure Story With a Touch of Magic" bears a seal inscribed: "Society of Writers at the United Nations. President's Recommended Selection," which does not appear in any recent listing of prizes and awards. One has to wonder if this is also the "first entry into the children's book market."
Hubbard is credited with "260 tales of adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and the American West." In looking at other reviews of this book, I share the opinion with many in the field of children's and young adult literature who admit that 261 didn't make it!
Which confirms the notion and reason for this review - that not everyone can nor should write a book for children. It's as simple as that.