Where I live, you screw up a couple of times and there are twenty thousand other fourth graders waiting to take your place. We learn this early, or we learn to get comfortable with our second, third and seventeenth choices: it’s a slippery, inexorable slope all the way down to the University of Phoenix.
I don’t know where you live. Maybe it’s not like that. Maybe late passes and unexplained absences and many other mysterious factors are not being tallied to your disadvantage by bureaucratic elves. Maybe you don’t worry. Maybe you don’t believe in elves. I used to be like you.
But the kid who has a different, improbable story for every day of the week, and whose eccentricities are celebrated as a matter of semi-public record – is this ever really an aspiration we have for our children anymore, or mere romantic longing for the children we never were?
Well, it probably takes some romance, either way. The eponymous grade school cowboy in Outrageous, Bodacious Boliver Boggs! always has a whopping good excuse, yet even his long suffering teacher Ms. O’Brien seems a little in love with him:
“Boliver Boggs, you are one hour late. That is outrageous,” she announces on three consecutive mornings, but you get the feeling she, as much as anyone, is longing to hear how he will wriggle out of this one. “On with the story!” shout Boliver’s awestruck classmates, and Ms. O’Brien does not shush them or correct Boliver’s grammar (“This morning I come up against an exceptional circumstance.”) though you might, reflexively polishing tenses and deleting double-negatives, all the while wondering why you can’t just let it be.
There are otherwise rattlesnakes here for your edification, a giant and apparently over-affectionate grizzly to help fill in the blanks, and there is Boliver Boggs with his clunking, purple cowboy boots and preternatural lassoing skills. There’s “dag nab,” and “plumb right about that,” and “pure-d truth,” Jo Harper’s vocabulary a worthy, florid accompaniment to gravity-defying illustrations by JoAnn Adinolfi – the puny cover picture here will hardly do these justice. Talk about bodacious: this looks like Adinolfi shook up a dream in a bottle and sprayed it all over the pages.
Still, where has it been hiding since? This book was originally published back in 1996, but Amazon currently lists 24 copies in the known universe – too bad for at least one generation of early readers familiar with the basic, pencil outlines of this story, though anyway fitting with the proudly truant spirit of its hero. Every great performer needs to sneak away sometimes for inspiration, but most still love a crowd awaiting their return.