Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Two Times The Glee

Laughter is a gift.  Life gives it to us in the form of unexpected incidents or antics, spoken and written words, facial expressions or visual representations.  We connect to these incidents, antics, words, expressions and representations because we have been in similar positions or because they are the exact opposite of what we anticipate.  Our sense of humor is enlarged. Our memories have an additional laughter factor to enhance our levels of happiness. Our view of the world is altered in the best possible manner.

There is no denying the place our stuffed animal toys have as companions in our lives, providing us with comfort and the most loyal of confidants.  Louis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 6, 2020) written by Tom Lichtenheld with illustrations by Julie Rowan-Zoch takes us into the inner sanctum of teddy bear musings. Louis is ready for change.

From day one . . .

things have gone downhill. 

Louis is a cushion for his boy's head.  When the child's nose needs wiping, Louis's arm is downright handy.  The teddy bear is used as an entree in prehistoric feasts.  Louis is perturbed.

Louis finds himself deep in sand, swirling in water, as the house canine's bed, and the victim of a needle and thread.  Wherever the boy goes, so does Louis.  He is forgotten on public transportation.  How is this possible?  Louis is ready for drastic action.

He has plans to leave.  At first the rain foils his efforts.  Then the younger sibling needs him for her tea party.  There is also the visit to school which is unavoidable.  Louis can hardly wait until that is over, so he is closer to bolting.

Finally, this longest of all days is nearing an end.  As soon as the boy is in bed, with the lights off, Louis is making his getaway.  Or is he?

It's not often we are inside the mind of a cherished teddy bear.  This much loved but also sometimes neglected, at least in the mind of the bear, toy gives voice to its frustrations through the words of Tom Lichtenheld.  Sentence by sentence this bear lists its grievances, building toward its plan (much like a disgruntled child) for an escape.  Then, with the gift of a skilled storyteller, Tom Lichtenheld shifts the narrative just enough to have readers wondering if the bear is as dissatisfied as it says.  It is here the humor heightens.  Here are two sentences, one following the other.

I can bear it no longer.

The next time this kid
squeezes me, I'm outta here.

In her debut as an illustrator, Julie Rowan-Zoch demonstrates her ability to enhance the words of a narrative through her playful, comic images.  On the white canvas of the open dust jacket her full-color illustrations engage our attention immediately.  Louis with his textured fur, peeking from the gift box with a wink and a smile, looks adorable.  The title text and the wrapped package are varnished.  To the left, on the back, after a bit of time with his boy, his expression has changed.  He is downright grumpy as the boy, oblivious to his disdain, gives him a hug.  The words here read:

A boy and his bear . . .

a love story? 

The book case is designed as the wrapped package.  The background is blue tied in a large red bow on the front.  The red ribbon crosses the spine perfectly, extending to the left as the crossed ribbon on the underside of the box.  

The opening and closing endpapers have a charcoal canvas.  In white is a pattern of the boy's toys, the household canine, and other items you see in the story such as the toy dinosaur, a pin cushion with pins, an umbrella, and a bowl of cereal.  On the title page, between the text is the wrapped gift box, unopened.

These illustrations rendered

in Procreate on an iPad.

(It is interesting to note

the text type was set in a font based on Julie Rowan-Zoch's handwriting.)

The sizes of the pictures vary from double-page pictures, some showing two different incidents in one image, to single-page pictures or to several smaller visuals on a single page.  The perspective changes for dramatic effect and increased humor.  The expressions on Louis's face and the boy's face convey a range of emotions.  Careful readers will notice the extra special details Julie Rowan-Zoch includes such as the toy pig being packed in a bindle by Louis when he is ready to run away.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page illustration.  Streaks of blue hues on the background indicate a rainy day.  To the left of the gutter we move close to the boy in a yellow, hooded raincoat.  His eyes are closed with a slight smile on his face.  In his right arm, tucked inside his raincoat is Louis.  The boy holds a large red umbrella over them in his left hand.  The umbrella fills the upper left top and more than half of the right side of the image. 

Through the voice of this teddy bear in words and illustrations readers come to understand no decision is every set in stone.  Each choice, however dissatisfied we might be, needs to be carefully weighed.  Louis written by Tom Lichtenheld with illustrations by Julie Rowan-Zoch is a delightful story of the ups and downs of forever friends.  I highly recommend this title for storytime themes of bears, toys, humor, or friendship.

To learn more about Tom Lichtenheld and Julie Rowan-Zoch and their other work, please follow the link attached to their name to access their websites.  Tom Lichtenheld has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Julie Rowan-Zoch has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  In her Instagram feed Julie has a lot of different costumes for Louis children will enjoy viewing.  As a debut illustrator Julie Rowan-Zoch is featured on Maria Marshall's site, KidLit411, Beth Anderson's site, the Soaring '20s, Jena Benton's site, Susanna Leonard Hill's site, and Critter Lit.

It is usually forbidden in most schools due to the fact its appearance, when not in use, can cause an assortment of problems, especially for the school custodians.  This rule, however, never matters to a select few students.  They can be caught smacking and chewing with abandon and are reminded to dispose of their gooey treat.  On those special days when the rule is temporarily lifted, in short order all are reminded of the detriments of gum.  

When it gets stuck where it is not wanted, it is disastrous.  On Account Of The Gum (Chronicle Books, October 6, 2020) written and illustrated by Adam Rex is a journal, in a day, of gum being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  As if having gum in your hair is not bad enough, be afraid.  It can get worse.

That's the gum.

Right there.

That you got in your hair.

Your dad has an answer to this problem . . . scissors.  Well, that does not work.  Now the scissors and the gum are stuck in your hair.  On the Internet, two sticks of butter are said to release the gum and the scissors.  Four items are now adhered to your hair.  Things are looking grim.

Auntie's antidote is wrong.  Grandpa's noodles and bacon sure don't assist in this issue at all.  Perhaps a rabbit to eat Auntie's grass will help.  Nope. 

Another animal is added to scare the rabbit.  A noisy household appliance does absolutely nothing about either of the critters now seated on the head of hair.  Somehow a cake enters the scene and becomes a mess on the floor.  Auntie is shown the door.

In what seems mere minutes, everything but the kitchen sink and everyone else (A guy with bees?) arrives to do their best to get the mess out of your hair.  You shout in our loudest voice.  You are heard and surprisingly enough, appropriate actions result.  In fact, something miraculous happens.  Who knew?  This is a day to remember.  It will be properly recorded, too.  HA!  

The words in this story roll out in conversational, rhyming word play.  Adam Rex has an unseen narrator talking with the child about the gum in their hair. This voice speaks as if they are right in the room with the child.  This elevates the comedy with every page turn until you are laughing out loud, unable to contain your mirth.  And some of the remarks made as an aside will have you rolling on the floor with exuberant elation.  Here is a passage.

       I know what to do:

It's a little bit mean,
but the cat always gets
really scared when I clean.

Just watch---she'll run off
and hide under the bed
if the vacuum comes anywhere
close to your head.

The marbled pink canvas on the open and matching dust jacket and book case looks suspiciously like pink bubble gum.  It's a perfect choice for drawing our attention to all the items and critters in the child's hair.  At this point the gum is the least of their worries.  As if all the action in their hair is not funny enough, the expression on their face is sure to promote giggles and grins.  

To the left, on the back, is a Johnny Bubble and his Pals cartoon.  It refers to the child's current problem and one of the animals. This illustration looks like those comics you find inside bubble gum wrappers.

On the opening and closing endpapers a collage of all types of gum wrappers and gum is muted in hues of pink.  On the closing endpapers is the addition of five images.  These are in reference to the second to last sentence in the book.  This day is one for the history books, or at the very least, the family photo album.

The visual interpretation of this story starts on the inside of the opening endpapers with the child in bed blowing a bubble.  On the back of the title page, they are sleeping, mouth open and gum falling out.  By the time they wake up, get dressed and head for the kitchen on the title page, the gum in their hair is discovered.  

On the dedication and publication information page at the back we are told:

the art in this book was painted in Photoshop.

We also see that another member of the family is in a bit of a sticky situation, now.

Adam Rex alternates his image sizes between single-page pictures with text on the opposite side on a white canvas or two-page images with the text carefully placed within the illustration.  The wide-eyed looks on the child are comedy personified.  The family members' expressions on their faces and body postures are exaggerated to magnify the marvelous fun you are having reading this book.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single page picture.  At this point there is gum, scissors, grass, noodles, bacon, a rabbit, a cat, and a vacuum cleaner in the child's hair.  The child is seated at the kitchen table, still wearing the cape thrown over them prior to the cut-the-gum-out-of-the-hair failure.  This bib thing is resting on the table.  The child, shoulders hunched, and lips in a grimace, has rolled their eyes upward.  You can almost hear them thinking---"Why has this happened to me?"

If you want to have a storytime, one on one or with a large group, laughing themselves silly, read On Account Of The Gum written and illustrated by Adam Rex.  The rollicking rhythm of his words with his funny illustrations are sure to prompt requests of "read it again."  I would pair this with Lisa Wheeler's Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum.  No collection will be complete without a copy of this book.

To discover more about Adam Rex and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Adam Rex has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  On September 3, 2020 Deadpan, Page Turns, Storytelling & Digestion: An Interview with Adam Rex is hosted at School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production by Elizabeth Bird, the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system.  I know you will enjoy this video posted by Chronicle Books.


  1. It’s so nice to hear a librarian’s thought! Two of my dearest children’s librarians retired in the last years and I really miss them - on top of not being able to linger in the library like I used to! Thanks so much, Margie!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Julie. And thank you for this book. We need laughter more than ever. I will champion stellar children's books as long as I can. You authors and illustrators are heroes.