Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Everything Is Good For Something, Right?

You keep watching it even though it's the most ridiculous television show, play, concert or movie you have ever seen.  You keep reading it even though it's without a doubt the goofiest thing you have ever read.  And then, to your own amazement, you read it again!  Let's face it, we love silly; the sillier the better.

On May 3, 2016 the twenty-fifth and final Elephant & Piggie book, The Thank You Book written and illustrated by Mo Willems was released.  He talks about it in this article at The Washington Post, Good night, Elephant & Piggie; a Q & A with Mo Willems.  He also speaks about a new series beginning in the fall of 2016, Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!  These books begin and end with commentary by the famous friends but other authors and illustrators write the stories.  The first two, The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat and We Are Growing by Laurie Keller, are huge hits.  In fact We Are Growing is the 2017 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award Medal Winner.

The third book, The Good for NOTHING Button! (An Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! Book, Hyperion Books for Children, May 2, 2017) written and illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper starts with Piggie answering Gerald's question with a classic reply.  I'm sure you're familiar with what children say when parents ask them what they are doing; especially if it's something they should not be doing.

What are you reading, Piggie?



As the conversation concludes readers along with Gerald are eager to start the story.

Three birds, Yellow Bird, Red Bird and Blue Bird meet on a forest pathway.  A nearby worm looking from a hole in a tree stump is less than happy.  Yellow Bird can hardly wait to show the other two what he has.  Blue Bird is ecstatic at seeing this object, but quietly asks what it is.

It's a button, a red button that does


Red Bird and Blue Bird are perplexed by this verbal revelation and actual demonstration.  Blue Bird asks to try.  He's happily flabbergasted.  When Red Bird points out being surprised is not nothing but something, the fun starts.  He then asks to press the button.  His response is not the same but it is certainly more than nothing.

Even though their reactions are entirely different this is starting to irritate Yellow Bird.  When Blue Bird pushes the red button again with an experience identical to the first time, Blue Bird and Red Bird draw another conclusion.  They break into song!

Yellow Bird explodes in frustration.  He repeatedly presses and pushes the button to demonstrate that it does absolutely NOTHING at all.  Red Bird and Blue Bird don't agree with this assessment.  Now Yellow Bird explodes in complete and utter exasperation.  In unison Red Bird and Blue Bird behave as every single reader will too!

Oh my goodness, Charise Mericle Harper!  The absurdity of a button you can carry and you can press that does nothing is hilarious.  What makes this even more over-the-top funny is the way the minds of Red Bird and Blue Bird work.  They are thinking outside the realm of obvious which to a literal bird like Yellow is thoroughly annoying.  Told entirely in dialogue the sentences and word choices are short, succinct and brimming with emotion.  The use of repetition of key phrases adds to the humor.  Here is a sample passage.

May I press the button?
Yes, Blue Bird. 
You may press
the button.
Wow what? (Red Bird)
The button
is SO easy 
to press.
It surprised
A surprise is NOT
nothing. (Red Bird)
That is true. (Blue Bird)

When you look at the front of the book case at the three birds, each wearing a different expression, you know this book is going to have comedic contrasts.  Careful readers will note the startled worm peeking out from behind the Elephant & Piggie logo.  The limited color palette, red, yellow, blue, touches of purple, dark pink, orange, brown, gray and pale green and blue for sky and earth, is used throughout the book.  On the opening and closing endpapers Gerald and Piggie are reading this book and laughing. On the closing endpapers the famous bird of bus-driving makes an appearance.

To supply pacing Charise Mericle Harper shifts her image sizes from two pages, to a single page, to a single oval or circle framed in white.  To increase the emotional impact several pictures are grouped on one page, separated by white space or a line.  The large, wide eyes of the characters, as do their wings (arms), mirror their current emotional state to great effect.

One of my several favorite illustrations is on a single page with a white canvas.  Red Bird and Blue Bird are in joyful moods.  Blue Bird has just pressed the button again and been entirely surprised.  This makes Red Bird laugh...a lot.  In the upper right-hand corner Yellow Bird is standing in disgust as if he just rolled his eyes.  His one wing is placed on his hip.  The opposite foot is tapping in irritation.

This book, The Good for NOTHING Button!, written and illustrated by Charise Mericle Harper is a surefire read aloud winner.  Read it with laughter in your voice, using multiple voices for the characters.  As soon as you finish it, I know your listeners will beg you to read it again.  The room will be filled with happiness.  Imagination is a wonderful thing.

To learn more about Charise Mericle Harper please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  You are going to have loads of fun exploring her pages.  She has an account on Instagram. Charise Mericle Harper and this book is the subject of a blog post by teacher librarian Travis Jonker on his blog at School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes.

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