Quote of the Month

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Count? Where Are They?

We all go through life with expectations, some more obvious than others.  In the northern climes we expect to see the seasons change.  When the wind rises, lightning flashes and thunder booms, we expect to see falling raindrops.  After planting corn seed, we expect to see tall stalks with juicy ears lining the field.

When we are asked by a friend to put the silverware on the table, we expect to see forks, spoons and knives in the drawer, not screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers.  I'm here to tell you, readers, when you open the cover of Count the Monkeys (Disney Hyperion Books) by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Kevin Cornell, you can take any expectations you might have and throw them out the window.   You are lured into the pages of this book expecting to count...well...monkeys.

Hey, kids! Time to count the monkeys!
It's fun.  It's easy.  All you have to do is turn the page...

Gasp.  There are no monkeys.  In fact, a gigantic king cobra has ripped the Monkeys This Way-> sign out of the jungle ground with his dangerous tail.  This one snake, a very scary snake, is definitely not a monkey.  We are asked to turn the page ever so gently.

Instead of monkeys what do we see?  We see two mongooses chasing the slithery serpent away.  We are also asked to vote whether the plural is mongooses or mongeese by raising our hands.  What kind of book is this anyway?  And where are the monkeys we are supposed to be counting?

We turn the page hoping finally to see some monkeys but no...we see three crocodiles.  Are we ever going to see any monkeys?  Each two-page spread features a creature who banishes the previous being.  Bears, bees, beekeepers, wolves, lumberjacks, more lumberjacks and the oddest musical rhinoceroses to ever grace the pages of a book appear.

We count from one to ten and back to zero again but the monkeys we anticipated seeing have not made an appearance by the book's final page.  Perhaps we should write a letter to the author or illustrator or publisher about this visible mistake.  Or maybe we should turn the page and look at the...!

When it comes to the unexpected, when it comes to humor, Mac Barnett knows exactly which words to place on each page.  In this title it's as if he is carrying on a personal conversation with the reader.  We are not only counting everything but monkeys, we are reading his comments barely able to contain gales of laughter.  Every effort is being made to follow his instructions to the letter.  This narrative is a fine example of the participatory give and take readers love between themselves and an author.

Get ready for howling hoots and snickering snorts, Kevin Cornell's illustrations are jam-packed with characters on the move.  For starters the jacket showcases eight scampy monkeys who, if you listen closely, are making all kinds of noise.  The jacket back features the Monkeys This Way-> sign.  Different illustrations on the cover highlight eight of the critters and four frightened lumberjacks.  Apparently they don't like their proximity to the grizzly bear.  Opening endpapers usher readers into a lush tropical landscape in hues of green.

Each of the numbers is given a double-page spread alive with bold colors.  The comic expressions on the characters' faces, smiles, frowns and eyes, draw the reader into the unfolding, rollicking romp.  Added touches such as the numbered running shirts on the mongooses, top hats, canes and vests on the crocodiles, a bottle of Picno Bismal by the gulping, guzzling grizzlies, the Scottish attire on the rhinoceroses and the placement of a childhood toy, unseen until the final page, all contribute to the nonstop fun found in this title.

It's a given multiple copies will be needed.  It's a given this book will be read over and over.  It's a given Count The Monkeys written by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Kevin Cornell will be a favorite no matter the age of the reader.  Double thumbs up and high fives all around.

There are a couple of things which came to mind when reading this book.  One was this would make an outstanding readers theater.  I can see using handmade puppets or representative props.  There are enough characters so every student could participate more than once.

What continuously popped into my mind as I was reading this, based upon the unanticipated circumstances found on each page turn, was the old television show, Candid Camera.  Here's one of the older shows for your end-of-the-week, Friday enjoyment.

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