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Book Review: A Bad Uncle’s Big Book of Impossible Dilemmas by Ryan M. Barnett

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A Bad Uncle’s Big Book of Impossible Dilemmas is rude, disgusting, revolting, perverse, nauseating, and crude. In other words, kids will love it. This is the kind of book sure to appeal to the seven- to ten-year-old set (and beyond) because it contains dreadful imagery with graphics to match.

Ryan Barnett’s inspiration came at a particularly trying breakfast with his seven-year-old nephew, Milo. Trying to get the boy to sit still, Barnett began a game of “Would you rather?” It worked. Soon after, Barnett hand-bound a collection of these scenarios into a book which he gave his nephew for Christmas. Milo loved it. The adults, maybe not so much. 

In his introduction to A Bad Uncle’s Big Book of Impossible Dilemmas, Barnett explains, ”Your parents may not have told you this, but life is all about … choices you don’t want to make but will absolutely have to … It takes a big boy or girl to make those hard decisions. So now you have to ask yourself this: Would you rather … continue reading this book [flip page] or have your beard of bees turn on you?”

Most of the choices in the book are impossible; they deal with fantasy or situations so disgusting no one could get into them. Barnett’s illustrations are simple pen-and-ink line drawings, but are incredibly appropriate (i.e., gross) with his text. 

Each dilemma is presented on two pages. The first part of a question is posed on the right-hand page (“Would you rather fight an octopus on land or…”), the second part is on the reverse side (“fight a bear under water?”). This format actually adds to the fun of the book, because you can change the combination of a dilemma’s elements by reading the first part, then turning several pages and reading the second part of a different dilemma. This may not have been the author’s intention, but it provides even more ground for thought or discussion. 

Many parents would choose not to discuss topics like eating worms or drinking pig spit, but there are some choices that could provoke a little soul-searching, such as between having the boogeyman live under your bed or in your sister’s closet, and standing in the corner accused of something you hadn’t done or having a stranger spend a night in jail for a lie you told. These questions help a child examine his own moral and ethical judgments without actually being put on the spot. 

Having spent time with children in the intended age group, I know two things: 1) there are times when only the most outrageous things will get them to sit still; and 2) anything to do with spit, farts, poop, and puke is absolutely hilarious. I don’t know if I’d want these subjects at my dinner table (although they have been introduced there by children and grandchildren); I’d opt for playing a more “refined” version of the game which dealt with moral questions and/or popular culture. I do know that little guys and girls would enjoy Barnett’s version a lot more than mine, and I have no objection to playing it when I’m not eating. If you have a vivid imagination, though, try not to linger on the mental images! 

Bottom Line: Would I buy A Bad Uncle’s Big Book of Impossible Dilemmas? Of course I would; I know just the young man who would dig it.    

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