The happiest book ever!

Bob Shea

Book - 2016

"This book wants to be the happiest book ever, and it has lined up all its friends--including you--to help! But wait--what's up with that frowny frog?"--

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Location Call Number   Status
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Picture books
Los Angeles ; New York : Disney-Hyperion 2016.
Main Author
Bob Shea (author)
First edition
Physical Description
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

ONE OF THE harder lessons of parenthood is that children often have terrible taste. You play Bjork, but they prefer the soundtrack to "My Little Pony." You show them "My Neighbor Totoro," but they'd rather watch "Turbo." Or maybe it's just my kids. We can't help impressing upon our progeny our own values and politics, but it's harder by far to inculcate in your kids your sense of aesthetics. We may wish they would ratify our own coolness, but the truth is that no baby alive needs to wear a Sonic Youth onesie. It's more likely to be Raffi than the Rolling Stones who teaches them to love art. To create a book that will satisfy both children and adults is a tall order. Still, I'm skeptical of the current vogue in picture books for self-awareness: stories about the act of storytelling, texts conscious of themselves as texts. A dose of irony is right for the times in which we live, but it can feel too much like a bid for the attention of the people who pay for books instead of the kid they're going to read to. The Portuguese writer Isabel Minhós Martins's "Don't Cross the Line!" is undoubtedly cool. In the story - such as it is - a loudmouthed general orders one of his underlings to keep people from crossing the book's gutter. The narrative tension relies on understanding that in languages that read left to right it's the right-hand page that draws our attention. But it's not essential to grasp that this is how books function. Bernardo P. Carvalho's cleverly rendered characters (two boys and a soccer ball, a ghost, an alien, an astronaut) fill the facing page, and are wholly charming. The poor soldier, outnumbered, stands down; the crowd rushes across the page, and his commander is displeased, then deposed. It's gratifying to see the petty tyrant tossed from his horse, though I suspected the book's meta-cleverness was meaningless to my 7- and 4-year-old sons. It is enchanting to study the illustrations; it's less a reading experience than a looking one. To that end, I found myself wishing the soldiers didn't carry guns. There are some things kids never need to see. Bob Shea's "The Happiest Book Ever!" is similarly interested in visual stimulus more than storytelling. Its pages feature a cartoon face, the embodiment of the book itself; the book is its own narrator, and its only aim is to be as happy as the title promises. Thus, it urges the reader to applaud, to give the volume a shake, to tell it jokes. The more the reader does this, the happier the pages become, as measured by the way the blank space fills with various funny illustrations (and one stubbornly unhappy frog that it's the reader's mission to cheer up). But of course, the book doesn't need the child reader's participation: It needs the parents'. It's one of those works a grown-up must understand before diving into; it's imperative to nail the narrator's hectoring tone, to make the kid you're reading to understand that call and response is in order. If you perfect your delivery, it's a book that will be a big hit. A self-referential twist is fine but works best when leavened with something - humor, magic, warmth. Jon Stone's now decades-old "The Monster at the End of This Book," illustrated by Michael Smollin, is a meta-storybook that is also a very funny story. It's about "Sesame Street's" Grover and his fear of the titular monster, who is revealed, of course, to be him. Authored by the show's first head writer, it's the rare television tie-in that's also a great book. Stone's story works because kids understand monsters, and fear, and because Grover's increasing panic as the pages turn is so silly. Maggie Tokuda-Hall's "Also an Octopus; Or, A Little Bit of Nothing" is concerned with the nature of storytelling itself - far more abstract than fuzzy monsters. "Every story starts the same way," Tokuda-Hall tells us, "with nothing." Fair enough. The payoff for an adult reading a child's book is in the child's reaction. Tokuda-Hall's tale of an octopus (quite darling, in the illustrator Benji Davies's rendering) building a spaceship out of waffles made my kids laugh hysterically. There's no sweeter sound; I wanted to take the shortest route possible to that moment of joy, and would have happily skipped the crash course on narrative that frames it. LeUyen Pham seems to me a writer and illustrator who is mindful of the younger members of her audience. Her illustrations are cartoonish and cute, even if they didn't appeal to me the way that Bernardo P. Carvalho's did. He created a book that wouldn't be out of place in a museum gift shop, while Pham takes a more traditional approach. But this book isn't trying to meet my aesthetic requirements; my younger kid was entranced from the get-go. The story of "The Bear Who Wasn't There" is, as you might guess, about the missing bear. There's an ark's worth of animals - a wiseacre duck, a misbehaving mouse - and they're either helpful or not on the quest to locate the bear. The story underscores the artifice of a book, with creatures pulling down the pages, running from one to the next, and even the author herself making an appearance, in cartoon form. It sounds ponderous but is hilarious. There's some wordplay that made my kids laugh so hard we had to stop for four minutes and savor it. A book that can appeal to readers big and small in equal measure seems miraculous to me. Crockett Johnson's "Harold and the Purple Crayon" shows how a meta-text, a book about the power of the page, can manage this. When you're 3, the thrill is in how Harold can turn a simple circle into a lifesaving hot-air balloon. When you're 30, introducing Harold to a child you love, the thrill is in seeing how smart a book it actually is. Tricky narrative strategies may feel very of-the-moment, but Johnson's book is 61 years old. The essential question to ask yourself is simply this: When you bring a book into your home, whom is it for? RUMAAN ALAM is the author of the novel "Rich and Pretty."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [November 13, 2016]
Review by Booklist Review

The ever-popular Shea, creator of, among many others, the fierce Dinosaur vs. series, goes for smiles with a barrage of feel-good images on bright yellow backgrounds. Who can resist a dancing cake? A candy parade? Clouds with faces? Hugs?! A certain frowny frog, that's who, lumpishly crouched in the middle of each picture. Readers are enlisted to give a wild yell, shake the book, or deliver some of the can't miss frog jokes gathered at the back, but not even this can lighten up the grouchy green thing (no surprise since Shea uses the same frog photo throughout). Eventually, annoyed, the narrator thunders, SCRAM! in extra-large type, and the next page turn reveals a frog shaped hole in the art. But suddenly all the smiles in sight are upside down leading to the acknowledgment that, right, being mean is not happy. Being mean is mean. Time for an apology and an invitation to come back: there should be room in a happy dance for everyone. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Reliably best-selling Shea is back with another jaunty picture book that is sure to be met with enthusiasm.--Peters, John Copyright 2016 Booklist

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

Happiness can be a cudgel: that's the gist of this funny, original, and astute meta-story. The narrator is a relentlessly cheerful face who personifies the book itself and conscripts readers into helping create the "Happiest Book Ever." The one obstacle is lumpy, unexpressive Frog, the only photographic image in the book. As the increasingly agitated face adds more and more digitally drawn whimsy to the pages ("Sunspot naptime kittens!" "A whale with good news!") Frog's imperturbability becomes an affront-an amphibian Bartleby the Scrivener. Ugly with rage, the face expunges Frog from the page, leaving a glaring white silhouette with an eerie, crime-scene vibe. None of the happy inhabitants is pleased about this turn of events (even the kittens are offended), and the disembodied face proves capable of growth: "Being mean is not happy.... Frog was just being frog." A heartfelt apology brings Frog back, and Shea (the Ballet Cat series) leaves readers feeling a little better about protecting their individuality-and perhaps less inclined to steamroll others in the future. Ages 6-8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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

PreS-Gr 2-In a quest to be the happiest book ever, this interactive story has lined up lots of help. Dancing cake? Check. A candy parade and a flying lion? Yup. Now readers supply happy thoughts. All is well, except for the frowny frog. The book is super-duper happy, except for the frog, whose dour expression never changes. Entice a smile from him with a frog-centric riddle provided at the back of the book? (What's giant and green and hops around Tokyo? Frogzilla!) Nope, not even that groaner warrants a grin. Maybe we can just cover the frog with a Post-it note? No way, the sticky-tongued fellow makes fast work of that. The only solution is to kick the frog out of the book entirely. Now everybody's happy, right? Well, no, not exactly. Chasing Frog out of the book is just mean, and "being mean is not happy." In a forgiving mood, Frog comes back to the book and is given a balloon to make him content. Book, Frog, and readers have successfully made the happiest book ever! The volume is chock-full of colorfully wacky, doodlelike illustrations that employ a palette of yellow, orange, and bright blue. The book's "face" is surprisingly expressive, using only a few lines and shapes. VERDICT Fun for one-on-one sharing or a riotous time with a larger group, especially where other interactive titles are popular.-Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY © Copyright 2016. 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

On page one, an omniscient narrator announces the plan: to create "the Happiest Book Ever." If only a gloomy photo of a grumpy-looking frog ("C'mon, Frog, lighten up!") didn't appear on every page amid the bright, happiness-courting thumbnails ("Clouds with faces!"; "Dancing cake!"). This hilarious book will amuse even readers too young to understand its gentle parody of power-of-positive-thinking (over)zealousness. (c) Copyright 2017. 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

Wanting to become the happiest book ever, a personified book enlists its friends helpbut things go awry when a frowny frog doesnt fit in, hilariously teaching the book (and readers) kindness and acceptance. A benign happy face enthusiastically greets readers and asks them to help. With each spread, the cheery mood becomes more pronounced, the face more exuberant, and the authors signature humor more in evidence. Cheerful, appealing characters blossom, cute and full of whimsy, many with labels that emphasize their silliness or absurdity. These minimalist images are perfectly juxtaposed to a photo of a dour-looking frog, whose seriousness pervades the book. Soon the once-upbeat face reveals an accusatory, even aggressive side, proving the ends dont justify the means. But through its friends guidance, the book learns tolerance and understanding, allowing for true happiness and cheer. Shea masterfully uses a simple format to introduce a complicated idea: how to illustrate the subconscious thinking of a fictional character. On the right page is the face and its verbal self, represented by the text. On the left is the visual manifestation of its thoughts (with some spillover to the right). There are levels of sophistication to this well-designed artwork done in a primary four-color palette with white accents. The interactive components will have readers shaking and flippingand most of all laughingtheir ways through its pages. A wonderful rethinking of the picture book as its own character. Wacky, zany, and downright fun. (Picture book. 5-8) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.