A perfectly messed-up story

Patrick McDonnell, 1956-

Book - 2014

Louie becomes angry when the story in which he appears is ruined by messes from jelly, peanut butter, and other things that do not belong in books.

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Picture books
New York : Little, Brown and Company 2014.
Main Author
Patrick McDonnell, 1956- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 22 x 25 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

HAVE YOUR KIDS GONE META? Do they Call their neighborhood jungle gym a "play structure"? Do they mix and match their dress-up garb - a tiara here, firefighter's boots there - with a sense of mischief that might, unnervingly, be termed "ironic"? Have they spotted the clown at the neighbor's birthday party removing his wig and slinking out the side door? They're probably not ready for the labyrinthine tricksterism of David Foster Wallace or Spike Jonze. But on the evidence of a recent spate of highly self-conscious picture books, it would seem that the suspended-disbelief state of early childhood is adapting to the wink-wink, nudge-nudge sensibility of our moment. It's not surprising. There has long been a strain of subversion in picture books - think of Maurice Sendak and Tomi Ungerer, among others - alongside the dominant anodyne snuggliness of the form. Now, sophisticated cheekiness appears to have gone mainstream. These five specimens of reinvention deftly pop the bubbles of their own illusory worlds, drawing attention to the artifices of their norms and aiming to teach children to become not just book lovers but pint-size "consumers of text." The best of these books, luckily, manage to find fresh magic in demystification, and to delight kids while spinning the heads of their grown-up companions. The endpapers of "This Book Just Ate My Dog!" by the British writer and illustrator Richard Byrne, are covered with the repeated apology "I promise not to be a naughty book," written out in a simulation of an errant child's scrawl. In its opening spread we find elfin, round-faced, shabby-chic-dressed Bella prancing across the right-hand page, and leading a friendly cow-like dog, situated on the left-facing page, by a leash. "Bella was taking her dog for a stroll across the page when" (turn the page) "something very odd happened." Half the dog vanishes in the space between the two pages - the crease book designers call "the gutter." Odd things do indeed transpire when one reads books. On the next spread, as Bella yanks the leash, the dog disappears entirely. The two sides of the book are not continuous with each other, and Byrne has transformed the fold between them into a kind of portal, emptying to an imagined nether region. All who try to make the crossing - a concerned friend, emergency vehicles, even perplexed Bella - vanish through the book's exposed scaffolding. To set matters straight, the reader is enlisted to twist the irreverent book sideways and shake its characters out of oblivion, a moment of participatory theater that feels like its own bit of naughty fun. "A Perfectly Messed-Up Story," by Patrick McDonnell, also concerned with boundary-breeching, unfolds on classically metafictional terrain. An amorphously shaped, pajama-clad boy named Louie sets out to be a character in an ordinary picture book, "skipping merrily along" and singing "Tra la la," when his path is interrupted by gobs of food descending from an unseen reader. Louie is indignant. "Who would eat a jelly sandwich while reading my book?" As the abuse continues - dirty fingers, orange juice and crayon markers besmirch the page - Louie addresses his condition with world-weary tones of pathos. "I'm just in a messy old book that will end up in some garage sale," he says, in what might be considered a "Toy Story" moment, if not a Brechtian one. The pleasures of watching a book depart from its conventions and address its sticky-fingered reader will tickle even the littlest postmodernist. The peanut butter stains don't hurt. Kelly Bingham and the illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky are on a mission to raise awareness of genre to a level of madcap chicanery. Their first book together, "Z Is for Moose," imagined a collision between a poker-faced alphabet book and a goofy animal romp. This one, "Circle, Square, Moose," purports to be a benign primer in geometry - a "shapes" book - opening with a spot-on parody of a pablum-textured instructional voice. Before long, though, the rambunctious moose trespasses onto the text and tramples its decorum. The comedy is rather broad, but reaches a pitch of surreal delirium as a zebra and a crazed cat join the fray. Adults who have slogged like prisoners through the pieties of self-serious picture books will find the anarchy refreshing; kids will recognize the mash-up world they were born into. B.J. Novak's "The Book With No Pictures" is the most conceptually radical of these books, doing away altogether with the medium's defining element: There's not an illustration to be found here. Novak, a writer and actor best known for his role on "The Office," spoofs the reverent silence of visually lush, text-free books like Tao Nyeu's "Wonder Bear" and Jerry Pinkney's "The Lion and the Mouse," making the refreshing and contrarian case that words alone have sensory and imaginative vibrancy to spare. "It might seem like no fun to have someone read you a book with no pictures," admits a page of black type set against a blinding white background. What's fun, though, is to be let in on trade secrets. "Here is how books work," the confiding typeface continues. "Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say." An aging semiotician might approve this recognition of the reader's complicity with a book's invisible agenda. For his part, Novak exploits the seeing-through device with abandon. The (presumably adult) reader is made to sing, issue nonsense sounds, extol the superiority of the child who is being read to, and say things like "I am a monkey who taught myself to read" (the favorite moment in my home). It's a raucous and illuminating gag, a formalist free-for-all, even if it wears a bit thin on repeated readings. The main character of "The Jacket," the first picture book by Kirsten Hall and the illustrator Dasha Tolstikova, is named Book. Book is a teal rectangle with soft, wide-apart eyes and a pencil stroke of a smile, uncannily resembling the cover of "The Jacket" itself when the jacket has been removed. This book is a revelation, seamlessly blending the cleverness of its conceit with the virtues of captivating storytelling. Book is lonely until he is discovered by a reader, "the girl," in whose hands he finds his place. Such bliss can't last, though. For "the truth was that there was someone else whom the girl really loved, too" - her dog, Egg Cream, represented as a shaggy blur. Book is nearly put out of commission by his rival, until the girl repairs him through a creative act that completes both Book's jacket and "The Jacket" (the book). It's as poignant as it is smart. The beauty of Tolstikova's pastel-tinged illustrations, whose manner changes from page to page and suggests both childlike simplicity and a quiet mastery of modernist color and design, shows there's more to a book than its concept. MARK LEVINE, a poet, teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 2, 2014]
Review by Booklist Review

Little Louie is excited to be in his very own story. It starts out pretty simply: on a pleasant, pastoral background, the story begins, Once upon a time, little Louie went skipping merrily along. Tra la la la,' he sang. For in his heart, Louie knew everything was just . . . but it doesn't get much farther than that because, out of nowhere, a blob of jelly lands on the page, followed by a bigger blob of chunky peanut butter. The realistic food stains are soon joined by grimy fingerprints and orange juice, and Louie decides to start from the top. This time, however, he is beleaguered by crayon scribbles. Though the trashed picture book is not a new device, this iteration is a fun one kiddos who get messy with their books will likely giggle at a character's reaction to the surprise splatters, and the cartoonish Louie, sparely composed of just a few brushstrokes, has some over-the-top reactions. Pair this with Jon Scieszka's Battle Bunny (2013) and maybe a napkin.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2014 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. Louie, one of McDonnell's adorable button-nosed creatures, is in the middle of his own story, singing happily when he notices some jelly on the pages. It's not just a drawing-the photographic blob looks very real, as if readers had spilled jelly on their own book. Then a splotch of peanut butter lands on Louie's head. "My story is getting all messed up!" he cries. A flurry of fingerprints, a splash of orange juice, and crayon scribbles soon follow. "This is the worst thing ever!" Louie wails, arms flailing wildly. The official-looking narration that starts and restarts as the book progresses ("This is Louie's story") turns out to be a kind of coach, an objective voice that urges Louie to take the long view. "I'm still here," he concludes. "You're still reading. And it is a pretty good story, messes and all." Louie's exaggerated reactions to the growing mess will trigger laughs with every page turn. Yet McDonnell (The Monster's Monster) excels at reminding his characters-and readers-that it's possible to keep it together even when life has jelly all over it. Ages 3-6. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

PreS-Gr 1-Beloved Mutts comic-strip illustrator McDonnell brings children a story about how even the most perfect things can sometimes become...well, messed up. Louie sets out to tell his happy tale about skipping and singing when suddenly a jelly blob interrupts his cheerful narrative. This is soon followed by a peanut butter ("AUGH! The chunky kind!") mess. Louie is horrified that someone would treat his story so carelessly. As the mess builds, Louie becomes more and more anxious, until a really big mess causes him to give up. "I'm just a messy old book...no one will ever want, read, or love," he cries. He soon learns a wise lesson; it is the story that makes the book, not the mess. Life is not without imperfections, and neither are stories. Classic McDonnell pen, ink, and watercolor pastels blend with mixed-media and crayon messes to make this untidy tale a victory for unkempt books everywhere. Keep calm, and read on!- Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

"No pages were harmed in the making of this book." This cheeky copyright page disclaimer is undoubtedly true, but the very realistic-looking messes inside -- and on the cover -- make it hard to believe. For Louie, the cartoony character in yellow footie pajamas whose story is derailed by these (virtual) messes, it's all cause for an existential crisis. Louie's "perfect story" begins in classic picture book fashion. "Once upon a time, little Louie went skipping merrily along. 'Tra la la la la,' he sang." The scene is as bucolic and banal and unsullied as it getsuntil the page turn. Louie's speech balloons interrupt the narrator -- "HEY! Hold on. WHAT'S THAT!?!" A purple gelatinous blob of jelly is followed by a glob of peanut butter ("AUGH! The chunky kind!"), dirty fingerprints, and orange-juice splatter. Discouraged but not defeated, Louie tries again. "From the top!" This time an ill-fated attempt to wipe away crayon scribbles causes Louie to give up: "My story is ruinedGo on without me." It's not over until the narrator says it's over, though, which allows Louie and readers to see past the unexpected to what really matters. More to the point and funnier than Scieszka, Barnett, and Myers's similarly themed Battle Bunny (rev. 11/13), McDonnell's well-paced story is, in fact, messed up perfectly -- strategically placed spills and all. kitty flynn (c) Copyright 2014. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Here's an existential dilemma: What if you were a character in a book, and sandwich fillings fell onto your page from above? Louie skips across a calm green field under mild skies and neat, fluffy clouds. His footie pajamas are yellow, and his paper-white face is merry. "Tra la la la la," he sings. Suddenly, a blob of jelly falls from above, inferably dropped by a less-than-fastidious reader. "HEY!" shouts Louie in a speech bubble that obscures the text, nonplussed. He sniffs and licks the jelly for positive identification, squinting and declaring dissatisfaction with this sticky mess, when suddenly from above"PLOP!" This time it's peanut butter. Enjoyable cartoon physics are at work: The peanut butter falls right onto Louie's face and covers it, but when he leans sideways, he's free of it. The ultrarealistic digitally collaged PBJ splotches retain their exact shape from spread to spread; McDonnell also uses pen and ink, brush pen, crayon and watercolor. More messes deface the idyllic countrysidefingerprints, juice, scribbles and, worst of all, a paper towel that smears rather than cleaningand Louie has a meltdown. The blank backgrounds that throw Louie's freakout in relief, the interplay between narrative text and Louie's frantic speech bubbles, and Louie's prostrate despair are all brilliant. Happily, the backgrounds reappear (clean, but what's that on the endpaper?), and so does Louie's equilibrium. A playful, funny and friendly treatment of anxiety and life's unpredictable messes. (Picture book. 3-7) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.