Quote of the Month

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Topsy-Turvy Tale

Of one thing you can be certain, nothing is rarely ever certain.  Predictions can be made using the best possible scientific evidence or research but one tiny unknown or slight imbalance can shift the results.  There have been many times when I have been hauling hoses to water gardens when one hundred per cent chance of thunderstorms moved above or below our region or spent hours shoveling one foot of twenty per cent chance of snowfall.  You truly have to be prepared to expect the unexpected.

It's in those what-are-the-chances-of-this-happening minutes we can learn and flourish.  Patrick McDonnell, creator of The Monster's Monster and Caldecott Honor winner of Me...Jane has written and illustrated a new title, A Perfectly MESSED-UP Story (Little, Brown and Company), destined to generate quite a bit of conversation.  It's a joyous example of life's little accidental incidents and how one can choose to respond.

This is
Louie's story. 

Once upon a time, little Louie
went skipping merrily along.

He was also singing a merry little song.  We all know skipping and singing mean nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong.  Suddenly Louie skids to a stop.

There is an irregular-shaped gooey blob smack dab in the middle of his pastoral scene.  Hmm...it smells like jelly and it tastes like jelly.  Louie is flabbergasted someone would eat a jelly sandwich while reading his book.  Before he can even process the audacity of this, a huge glob of peanut butter lands on his face.  What?!

Wait a minute!  Black fingerprint smudges are appearing all over the pages.  This is a catastrophe!  Can it get any worse?!  It sure can and does.

In a truly earnest monologue Louie states the value of books and asks to continue his story again sans surprises.  Alas, it is not to be.  Crayon scribbles appear like an alien cloud in the sky.  Louie's request for assistance elevates the eyesore.  As you can imagine, Louie is more than a little irritated.

This story, his story, is in a shambles.  In fact, Louie gives up.  Heedless of his down and out statements, the narrator finally finishes the third sentence.  With that final word, Louie makes a startling discovery.  Way to go and grow, Louie!

The combined word choices and sentence structure fashioned by Patrick McDonnell are brimming with pizzazz and emotion.  The contrast between Louie's storyline, the narrative, and his spoken reactions are fantastically funny.  It's like you have a lighthearted tune being played by a piano and flute suddenly interrupted by a cymbal crash.  Here is a small sample.

For in his heart, 
Louie knew everything
was just

Opening up the dust jacket there stands, beneath a contrasting typed and hand-drawn title,  a somewhat baffled- looking, book-holding Louie amid jelly, crayon scribbles, an orange juice ring and numerous black fingerprints.  When your eyes look to the left one of the pages from the book is featured upside down.

Things don't always go by the book.

appears above Louie who states resignedly, in a conversational speech bubble,


Lightly golden checked opening and closing endpapers are identical except for the words in a small book plate on each.  The closing endpapers also hint at additional events.

Rendered in pen and ink, brush pen, crayon and watercolor on watercolor paper, the illustrations by Patrick McDonnell are lively using a full-color palette.  Each single-page picture has a softly-defined edge which creates a border using the heavy cream-colored paper.  When Louie despairs, believing his book is destroyed, the background scenery fades away to nothing.  It's just Louie and his voiced thoughts until his magic moment of realization.

One of my favorite illustrations is the third one in the book.  Louie is skipping across a hilly field of flowers with trees, clouds and blue sky in the distance.  He is singing his song,

Tra la la la la

Wearing his one-piece yellow suit with the two tiny red buttons, his face full of happiness and mouth open, he is the ultimate picture of bliss.  It's the perfect set-up for the following page as well as depicting the strength of Louie's character which is recognized by everyone, Louie too, at the end.

A Perfectly MESSED-UP Story written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell is sheer delight on every page.  It portrays in the best possible way, through humor, of how everyone's story can continue even though messes appear.  Readers of all ages will fall in love with Louie.

This is a great read aloud.  I can see having children act out the story after it has been read through one time first.  Get ready for a reader's theater romp and props as messy as you dare.

For more about the work of Patrick McDonnell please follow the link embedded in his name.  It takes you to a special publisher's website showcasing all his books.  There are lots of extras complimenting his earlier titles.
Update:  Patrick McDonnell was interviewed at Watch. Connect. Read. teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher's blog on November 21, 2014.

This review is based upon an uncorrected proof which I received from my favorite independent bookstore, McLean & Eakin Booksellers located in Petoskey, Michigan.  I can't wait until the projected release date of October 7, 2014 to get a copy of the hardcover.

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