Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Handheld Hilarity

For those who read aloud, whether to a single soul or a group of listeners, when the story generates, first, giggles and then outbursts of laughter, the atmosphere in the setting changes.  It is charged with a special connection.  Uniting through happiness is lasting, sometimes for decades.  You don't forget it.

When it comes to wishing, you need to carefully weigh all the consequences attached to a wish.  Our favorite grumpy, not fun-loving bear is back (somewhat) in a new title, The Bruce Swap (Disney Hyperion, May 4, 2021) written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins.  His housemates, the mice, Rupert, Thistle, and Nibbs, and the geese, wish Bruce was less like himself and more like them.  Due to the paper-consuming geese, a comedy of errors unfolds on this day.

There was a letter in the mailbox
at 13 Go Away Lane.

No one would ever know except for a reader what the letter said because a goose ate it.  It announced a visit from Bruce's fun, fun, fun cousin, Kevin.  Bruce detested fun.  In fact, that night each of Bruce's housemates made wishes about Bruce because he lacked any inclination toward fun (or sandwiches).

The next morning Bruce left the house to go fishing.  He wrote a note explaining his absence.  Guess who ate it? Guess who showed up at the house looking like Bruce but acting like the housemates wishes came true?

Even when the bear said his name was Kevin, no one believed him.  They knew their wishes were granted.  The fun started in earnest.  Candy was bountiful.  Multiple pizzas were ordered.  Outdoor activities were celebrated inside the house.  And the noise was deafening.  Moving to the outdoors, downright dangerous stunts were performed.  

Kevin's fun, fun, fun friends arrived and added to the craziness.  Three mice and four geese looked around, saw a humongous mess and realized too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  Kevin did not like messes, so he drove away with his pals. 

Can you imagine what Bruce was going to say when he got home?  You'll be surprised more than once as this story concludes.  Three cheers for grumps!

With every sentence author Ryan T. Higgins pens in this title, you can feel the humor growing.  He uses the repetition of a single word or phrases for emphasis and to fashion a cadence.  One two-word combination he inserts into the story is guaranteed to have readers and listeners rolling on the floor laughing.  His blend of narrative and dialogue is flawless.  Here are two passages.

Early the next morning, before the first rays of sun crept
across Soggy Hollow, Bruce woke up to go on a fishing trip.


By himself.

He left a note, of course.

Gone fishing.
Don't make
a mess!

But nobody read that note either.


One look at the open dust jack, front and back, and you know something the exact opposite of ordinary is in the offing for Bruce and his housemates.  On a blue background on the back, to the left, is a photograph of Bruce and Kevin.  Their facial expressions could not be more different.  There is one grump and one goof featured.  This photograph is varnished.  On the front, to the right, Bruce on the left is totally unaware of Kevin.  His fun, fun, fun grin is shocking to Rupert.  On this image the title text is varnished.

The book case design mirrors that of a pizza box in red and white check.  In the center is a circle framed in green.  On the front and back a bear, wearing a chef's hat, is showcased in red on white within that circle.  One is Kevin and one is Bruce.  Let the hilarity commence.

On the opening endpapers Bruce has placed sixteen signs around his home, advising people what they can't do.  The final sign in his paws reads:


Behind the signs and Bruce are his home on the right and the lake across both sides.

Kevin has worked his fun on the closing endpapers.  The lake, trees, and Bruce's house are all the same.  The signs have all been changed by Kevin.  Each NO has been crossed out and GO is written in green next to the crossed-out NO.  Kevin stands at the NO PLAYING sign with a green marker in his paw.  He has already altered that sign.

These illustrations by Ryan T. Higgins 

created using scans of treated clayboard for textures, graphite, ink, and Photoshop

send the hoopla soaring (much like Rupert who finds himself attached to an airborne kite).  The facial expressions on all the characters depict every emotional moment from glee to despair and other moods between the two.  Readers will pause at every page turn to enjoy all the details.  Images span single pages but cross the gutter to join spot visuals on the previous page.  Other single-page pictures, panels and partial-page illustrations accentuate pacing and the story line.  For dramatic effect double-page pictures tell a story all their own.  Most of the conversation is found in speech balloons.

One of my many favorite pictures is a single-page image.  We are in the living room of Bruce's home.  It has been transformed into an indoor swimming pool.  Water is nearly up to the window casements.  Kevin wearing a red-and-white striped swimming suit, floaties on his arms, a bathing cap, and swim goggles is having fun.  The geese and mice are not so sure.  One is grasping the floating telephone.  Two others are using a door as a raft.  Rupert remarks:

This might be an 
electrical hazard.

Regardless of how many times The Bruce Swap written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins is read, laughter will resound each and every time.  The return of beloved characters coupled with the narrative, dialogue, and comical illustrations are an unbeatable combination.  You'll want to have a copy of this title for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about other titles by Ryan T. Higgins go to his page at the publisher's website by following the link attached to his name.  Ryan T. Higgins has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a link to a lengthy guide on the work of Ryan T. Higgins.  It would be great for an author study.

Several weeks ago, when I stepped out on the front porch with my canine companion to begin our last stroll for the day, panic and a stench overwhelmed me.  It was not quite pitch black outside yet.  Where was the skunk?  Was it on the lawn?  Was it under the porch?  Was every person's nightmare about to unfold?  We were lucky this time.  Something Stinks! (Penguin Workshop, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, June 15, 2021) written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske is about a being with an experience similar to mine with one huge difference.  A skunk can't figure out where a horrible smell is emanating.  (I don't know about you, but I am laughing already.)

Something STINKS!

The narrator continues by telling us how fortunate we are not to smell what he is smelling.  We are then told exactly how stinky it is.  Comparisons are made to three kinds of stink.  How can it be stinkier

than a rotten tuna and onion sandwich?

Skunk then informs us he will track down the source of this odoriferous aroma.  No nook or cranny will be overlooked.  When he offers up the source as underpants, he is mistaken.  The scent is increasingly worse.

It seems to be following Skunk.  He then asks the reader to move in closer so he can make sure it is not they who stink.  Really?  

By now Skunk is getting nauseous.  He asks for readers' help.  When there is a response, he can't comprehend the words or gestures.  Skunk is at his wit's end.  Suddenly, a change clears the air.  What has happened?  We know, but Skunk is oblivious.

From the first words out of Skunk's mouth, written by Jonathan Fenske, the hilarity begins.  We are active participants in the story as Skunk speaks directly to us in short sentences.  Questions are asked and replies are given.  To elevate the humor, another character, a fly, adds commentary.  Here is a passage.


Now the smell is
getting WORSE.

Like someone or someTHING
has been dragging a great big
cloud of stink everywhere!

The two hues of green shown on the front and back of the open book case clearly indicate an odor capable of inducing illness.  By the placement of the darker of the two, readers realize the origin of the stink.  The presence of the fly, first smiling on the front, and then with eyes crossed in displeasure on the back, suggests the extent of the stench.  The text on the back is an introduction to the story with Skunk speaking to us.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a pattern of Skunk, much smaller, standing almost sheepishly amid the smell.  He has no idea he is the cause of the odor.  Zipping around him in loops and swirls is a dotted white line on the green canvas.  This is the flight pattern of the fly who makes an appearance on the closing endpapers.  On the title page, a perplexed Skunk stands trying to locate the source of the stink.

These illustrations by Jonathan Fenske range in size from double-page pictures to single-page images, and groups of smaller visuals to supply pacing.  Often, we are brought very close to Skunk, further inviting us into the story.  His expressive wide-eyed looks, exaggerated facial features, and gestures contribute to the laughter factor.

Background colors are either gruesome green or crisp white.  Every line is spotlighted.  This raises our awareness of the situation in which Skunk finds himself.  You can't help but laugh!

One of my many favorite pictures is on a half-page.  Skunk is trying unsuccessfully, to figure out what the reader is telling him.  In this image he is saying:

I see you pointing.

On the green background with the green odor gathering at the bottom is the upper part of Skunk's face with one arm.  His hand is placed on his forehead as he tries to see.  His eyes are wide open.  He is looking squarely at us.  He just doesn't get it.  Therein is increased comedy.

With a book like Something Stinks! written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske, you know how readers will respond.  Even now I can hear peals of laughter.  And once this laughter starts it won't stop, even when the story ends.  This is going to be a much-requested story time favorite.  You'll need a copy in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Jonathan Fenske and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Jonathan Fenske has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At the publisher's website you get a peak at the initial title page.

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