Mouse and Hippo, illustrated and written by Mike Twohy, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (A Paula Wiseman Book), ISBN: 978-1481451246. Sometimes a book comes along that gives me a giddy giggling fit; I start laughing and then cannot stop. And Mike Twohy’s Mouse and Hippo happily joins that esteemed list. This book beats to the sound of its own drummer, follows its own inner-logic, and the humor keeps surprising the reader. The dialogue between the two titular characters (set in two distinct fonts) is often absurd, and Twohy’s appealing cartoonish illustrations (rendered in India ink, water color, and felt pens) do a fantastic job making the humorous interplay zing and pop. What emerges is a goofy yet effective friendship tale in which two unlikely pals discover the power of art. Twohy, who received a 2017 Geisel Honor for the delightful Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run!, introduces his little mouse character as an artist working on its latest masterpiece. The little rodent stands on what appears to be a rock on a lake, but the rock turns out to be a hippo tickled by the mouse’s easel. Hippo explodes out of the water knocking the poor mouse into the depths. I adore the jarring start to the story and the expressions on their startled faces. The laughs start really kicking in when Hippo notices what a great artist Mouse truly is, and the Mouse offers to paint Hippo’s portrait. Twohy starts giving us the silly playfulness kids totally dig as the characters take turns painting each other. This is imaginative play at its best. I keep asking myself: how will I explain these visual jokes to you dear reader? And I really cannot. You need to see the book yourself. All I have to say is when the Hippo describes one painting as “awesome,” the same could be said for this cheerful romp.
Finders Keepers (2015), illustrated and written by Keiko Kasza, published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 978-0399168987. I had to temporarily suspend my blog from July 2015, right after my role as a 2017 Caldecott Committee member officially began, to late January 2017 after the winner of the award (Javaka Steptoe’s brilliant Radiant Child) was announced. So that meant I couldn’t review Keiko Kasza’s absolutely wonderful 2015 storytime delight Finders Keepers. Until now. Better late than never. I am a huge fan of Kasza’s work, as shown in this blog post from the previous incarnation of this blog. And Finders Keepers expertly serves as an example of what she does best: giving readers an unpredictable story with many twists and a surprise ending. I always tell people asking for great examples of picture books that teach young children the art of narrative that Kasza that is a master spinner of deceptively simple yarns. In this tale, a squirrel wearing a cool red hat buries his acorn to munch on later. He instructs the hat to stay put and cover a hole he dug to bury the treat. After he walks away, a wind lifts the hat to a tree where a bird lives who says ooh “finders, keepers” and turns it into a nest. And so begins a fun journey as the hat goes from bird to ant to bear, each new character saying “finders, keepers” when they see the spiffy chapeau. I always have the kids say that recurring line along with me and the characters after a count of three. Kasza has mastered the page turn and this story propels forward quickly, creating suspense and laughs. Her graphite and colored pencil, gouache, and oil pastels give us expressive, instantly lovable characters (love the contented look on the ant’s face as it sails down the stream in the hat which now serves as a boat) that jump off the page with their energetic personalities. There isn’t a wasted detail here. And of course there’s a typically great Kaszaesque surprise ending that implies that the story has just begun. A keeper.
Life on Mars, illustrated and written by Jon Agee, and published by Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN 978-0399538520. Review of the galley; book is out 2/28/17. OK, I admit it…I have David Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?” going through my head as I write this, although Jon Agee’s latest comic gem has nothing to do with that catchy tune. And on another side note, I just learned that seven new planets have been discovered! So it seems only fitting to be writing about this strange otherworldly delight. This tale gets a lot of comic mileage out of a scenario kids love: seeing something that a character is completely oblivious to; children love knowing something others don’t. Chronicling a child’s journey to the Red Planet, the book’s first person narration serves as a perfect example of disconnect between text and image. The kid (identified as a boy on the book jacket) lands on Mars’ surface in a snazzy rocket, hoping to find life, and bearing gifts (yummy chocolate cupcakes to be exact). He’s filled with bravura at first, saying that he will prove that there is–hence the title–Life on Mars. However, he grows increasingly mopey as he finds nothing but rocks and dirt, and decides to head home to Earth. What follows is a hilarious game of “LOOK BEHIND YOU!!!” as a sweet, silent, and ginormous Martian follows the clueless pint-sized astronaut. This round, blobby creature has one of the funniest entrances I have seen; it peeks out from a crater after the child passes it–I love its pointy ears. Agee does a commendable job conveying the humorous tension of the situation, with the child’s smallness serving as a counterbalance to the grand scope of the landscape and the large alien. As in his recent It’s Only Stanley and Lion Lessons, Agee ends things with a fun, satisfying punchline. Quite simply, this is another winner from a comedy master.
Laundry Day, illustrated and written by Jessixa Bagley, published by Neal Porter/Roaring Book Press, ISBN: 978-1626723177. Give me a picture book that makes me laugh and I’m one happy camper. Fortunately 2017 has been off to a great start in terms of humorous new offerings, and I’ll be discussing a number of them over the next several days. First up is Jessixa Bagley’s delightful romp Laundry Day, which, in terms of tone, emerges as a rollicking change of pace after the more melancholy Boats for Papa (poignant and moving) and Before I Leave (still sniffing). Skillfully serving up her story mostly double page spreads, Bagley introduces two young badgers named Tic and Tac, decked out in striped shirts and jeans. They spend a gorgeous sunny day bored out of their wits, and no activity their mother suggests appeases them. Check out their body language on the opening spreads–they’re on the ground, arms extended, looking all forlorn at the sky. I love how laundry sails off mother’s overflowing basket as she walks by, landing on their faces. This laundry snaps them into action and they start chasing after one another, underwear and pants on their heads. When mom suggests they help with the laundry, Tic and Tac suddenly become even more energized, and they become, well, just a tiny bit slightly overzealous when hanging up clothes. And a whole bunch of other objects. Bagley uses the dimensions of the book beautifully, giving us an epic slapstick comedy in cinemascope widescreen as Tic and Tac go overboard. There’s also a colorful beauty in Bagley’s pen and watercolor drawings that give the book a classic feel. It all leads to a rather surprising and silly ending that will have young readers giggling. A fantabulous delight.