Prologue: I've got a fresh one here. Russell Wrestles the Relatives was released on Tuesday of this week and the author’s website includes a fun little extra, so I figured I’d give it a look and let everyone know about it.
The Build: This is Cindy Chambers Johnson's first published book, though from her website it is clear this isn’t the first one she has written and shopped. It’s nice to see someone break through with a hobby they obviously love and put so much time into. My Google and social media searches did not turn up any major signs of sports entertainment fandom for either the author or the illustrator.
The Main Event: Russell Wrestles the Relatives tells the story of a young kid who is nervous about his family reunion because he’s a little scrawny and all his family members are wrestlers. Essentially, He’s the character from Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer who wants to be a dentist, if instead of being an elf, he was a Hart or an A’noai.
As predicted, he initially gets pummeled by his family, who have names like Uncle "Iron Arm" Murphy and Aunt Franny the Flapper. Their signature moves are things like the Texas Ticklehold and Tousle Tangler. He is at their mercy until he accidentally slips out of someone's grasp, inspiring him to invent a series of escapes and counters like the Slippery Sidewinder and the Knuckle Knocker. He thinks he's got this figured out until he gets cocky leading to him being ensnared in the Kansas Crusher by his grandmother, Dorothy the Dropper, which brings us to a cute finale.
The illustrations by Daniel Duncan are bright and friendly. The relatives look mostly like stereotypical weird relative types with a few wrestling flourishes thrown in. The names of the wrestlers and moves also display a kid-friendly hokey-ness. The made-up names that appeal to children add a layer where instead of taking the book at face value, it is plausible to see this as all in Russell’s imagination. As a child, your adult relatives can be intimidating, and their "affection" can be unwanted or a little bit painful. A kid wrestling fan could project these traits onto their relatives to make their discomfort more understandable or entertaining. Either scenario is a fun read.
Reactions and Star Rating: 4 stars.
I’m a big fan of pro wrestling. I’m also a big fan of picture books, so it’s always fun to see these two things come together. It’s cool that there are two plausible interpretations for the story, and I can relate to having weird relatives. This doesn’t play as strongly to my nostalgia as Nino Wrestles the World, but I read it with my son and he thought it was awesome. He had me read it four times in a row, which is the sign of a definite winner.
Additionally, I’m curious to know what led to this book from this author, her blog posts talk about trying to come up with rhymes about bird houses and other things that didn’t appear in this book, so at some point that wasn’t working and this idea must have presented itself as a better alternative. Obviously, the publishers thought so as well. It’s not a niche that gets filled often so if this book does well, hopefully it will lead to more pro wrestling related picture books.
Epilogue: You may have noticed that this is not the Mystery/Crime genre book that won my last poll. I’m still working on finishing the book I picked out for that and will hopefully have it done before too long.
Also, as a bonus for making it to the end, I’d like to share with you the wrestling name generator the author has on their website. I got "The Montana Mongoose." Go ahead and share yours in the comments.