Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Handheld Hilarity 3

Reading a newsletter yesterday written by a soon-to-be-published romance author, who is also a master teacher and friend, two words tied her series of thoughts together.  Those two words, silver linings, ask us to look beyond our current circumstances.  When we seek silver linings, they will reveal themselves to us.  Sometimes they are a tiny sliver.  Other times, they are huge, life-changing moments.  

For many of us, books which make us grin or giggle, or guffaw are the silver linings every time we read them.  They are silver linings which never fail us.  When a character returns to a series of books, it means more fun is in the offing.  We first met him eight years ago in Crankenstein and again in A Crankenstein ValentineHe has returned in Trick Or Treat, Crankenstein (Little, Brown And Company, August 17, 2021) written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat.  In this newest entry, a beloved holiday is not as it should be.

Do you know what today is?
Crankenstein knows what today is.
It's a day that rhymes with Schmalloween, and
it's Crankenstein's FAVORITE day of the year.

His first inkling the day is awry is a throbbing toothache.  It goes downhill further when his brother fails to recognize his costume identity.  And just when he thinks it can't get any worse, it does.  No one mentions a raging rainstorm was coming.

Every activity at school to celebrate the holiday is off kilter.  What are the chances of someone else having the same costume and standing next to Crankenstein in the parade?  That night in his neighborhood trick-or-treating, someone is handing out toothbrushes instead of candy.  What kind of person does that?

Some other neighbor has a weird idea of frightening decorations. Crankenstein is not happy at being scared.  Back home, finally, his sly brother is swiping his candy.  What has happened to 

Crankenstein's FAVORITE day of the year

Wait! Is that the doorbell ringing?  Opening the door, Crankenstein is shocked at what he sees.  He bursts out laughing.  He keeps on laughing when he sees a lot more great minds who think alike.

This author, Samantha Berger, knows comedy.  She understands how delighted readers are in the contrast between the expected and the reality.  AND either through experience or observation, she has included the perfect pairs of opposites.  Initially, she creates a rhythm through the use of the word


bringing it back to great effect at the close of the story.  She then establishes another cadence which increases Crankenstein's grit-your-teeth frustration and our rib-tickling laughter.  Here is a passage.

EXCEPT---when his brother doesn't know
WHAT he's supposed to be, and laughs till he falls
off the couch.

Crankenstein would say,

Look at the front, right side of the dust jacket!  Everything screams Halloween and not any ordinary Halloween.  This is a Halloween gone wrong.  There are webs in the title text with a black spider dangling between the K and O.  Bats fly around Crankenstein on an orange background.  The handle on his treat bag is ripped, spilling his collected candy.  His signature reply to his fateful events is carved into the jack-o-lantern.  Crankenstein's face allows for no denying his current mood.  To the left, on the back, in shades of gray is a silhouette of Crankenstein shouting his displeasure.  Across Crankenstein's form is a toothbrush with a jack-o-lantern, TRICK or TREAT tag hanging from the handle.  Adding insult to injury along the handle it reads:

Dr. Spooner DDS 555-9874

On the book case, on a cream background, is Crankenstein.  On the front he is facing us in his 


with all the parts labeled.  On the back Crankenstein has turned his back to us.  Four parts of his costume not previously shown are labeled.

You cannot, I repeat cannot, just glance at the opening and closing endpapers.  Illustrator, Dan Santat, has fashioned a collage of enlarged candy.  Each of the candies have been renamed to depict the spookiness of Halloween.  The wrappers are familiar, but the names are decidedly not.  Have you had

It suffices  


Imbibe The Spectrum!

Even some of the information on the verso has been "Halloweened." 

Each of the double-page illustrations (and a group of smaller panels) were rendered in Adobe Photoshop.  All the scenes inside Crankenstein's home depict a love of his favorite holiday.  There are ghoulish lamps and lampshades, and Halloween cups, glasses, bowls, placemats, pillows, and blankets.  The exaggerated facial expressions will have you grinning from ear to ear.  For most of the pictures, we are close to the action.  We are a part of this story. 

One of my many favorite illustrations is the only panoramic setting.  Across most of the two pages are hues of green formed into a corn maze. Four costumed classmates of Crankenstein are gleefully running down several pathways on the left.  Across the top of the page is a gray sky with a smattering of darker rain clouds and some parked vehicles on the right.  On the bottom of the image, to the right of the gutter (with one arm crossing the gutter), is a scarecrow.  He is looking grim.  Where is Crankenstein you ask?  Two arms with clenched fists extend straight up in a row on the right.  Above those arms in a speech balloon is a visual of an angry face.  Crankenstein is lost! 

Guaranteed to make you smile at the least and surely laugh out loud, Trick Or Treat, Crankenstein written by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat is a feast of fun.  Readers will relate to the mishaps but will be pleasantly surprised by the conclusion.  Treat yourself to a copy for your professional and personal bookshelves.

To discover more about Samantha Berger and Dan Santat and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the link attached to their names.  Samantha Berger has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Dan Santat has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Many individuals use meal preparation as an act of love or as an artistic expression.  There are a few others, a very few, harboring an ulterior motive.  One such fellow is found in Chez Bob (Little, Brown And Company, September 21, 2021) written and illustrated by Bob Shea.  This alligator has a voracious appetite but is loath to exert himself.  What he lacks in energy and ambition, he more than makes up for it in ingenuity.

Bob worked very
hard at being lazy.

"Being lazy is making me very hungry,"
said Bob to no one.

Bob hopes his request for birds to fly directly into his mouth will work.  They flee with haste.  He then observes how grass entices birds to it because of its seeds.  Like the proverbial lightning strike, Bob has a plan.

His long snout will house a birdseed restaurant.  It will be so successful, other alligators will want to purchase his idea.  He will be wealthy, but most importantly, he will no longer be hungry. 

The first bird at Chez Bob is impressed.  Bob has to let him go rather than eat him.  He is going to spread the word about the delectable meal on the menu.  Chez Bob is an international success.  Before long, a community surrounds Bob and his restaurant.  There is a school for the youngsters and a library for everyone.  As a member, new member, of this flock, Bob participates in a service project.  He joins a book club? Oh, Bob!  

Mother Nature exerts her will.  Bob has a huge decision to make.  Birds or breakfast?  What could possibly be worth more than fame and fortune?

When author Bob Shea pens a story, his keen sense of humor shines in every sentence.  His blend of narrative and Bob's personal voice and thoughts is true and perfectly paced.  The hilarity escalates with Bob acting and saying one thing and thinking about consuming the birds at the same time.  Then, in the best possible manner, a dilemma is presented.  It is a heightened what-if moment.  Readers will appreciate the choices made by both Bobs.  Here is a portion of one passage and the following two sentences.

"Oh, then I will not eat you,"
said Bob.

"What?" said the bird.

"I said, 'So nice to meet you,' "
said Bob.

And he couldn't wait to meet
the bird's tasty friends.

Soon Chez Bob was
the talk of the trees.
Birds flew in from all
over the world to eat
on Bob's face.

(Please note I am working with an F & G.  I was hoping to have a copy this week, but unfortunately, they have been delayed.  The anticipation grows.)

The expression on Bob the alligator's face on the right side of the open dust jacket has me laughing out loud every time I see it.  That smirky grin with one hand attempting to cover it is priceless.  Bob salting the bird as the bird salts its seeds is over-the-top comical.  The choice of the teal canvas makes Bob and the bird shine.

On the left, back of the dust jacket, Bob is seated on a navy background.  Birds are around him, his hat, and his face.  It is movie night.  On the end of his nose is the screen.  Bob is scooping popcorn into his mouth as birds nibble what is on the ground.

On a spring green canvas with short yellow and blue blades of grass, birds of a variety of colors gather on the opening endpapers.  On the far left, a pink worm looks at the group of birds aghast.  With the same background, the closing endpapers tell a different tale.  It is a blur of bicycles, birds, and Bob . . . on a bicycle.  The verso and title pages present a double-page picture of Bob lazily resting on the edge of the water with the jungle flora and fauna around him.

The color palette of blues, greens, purple, yellow, pink and white welcomes readers to the story.  The images, double-page pictures and single-page pictures, are highly animated.  When Bob opens his mouth, he opens it WIDE!  The tiny details in some of the scenes ask readers to pause.  There are birds in lounge chairs around a pond.  There are birds riding on a roller coaster.  There is a tiny bus with two passengers and a capped driver.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Bob is taking his patrons on a sunset dinner.  Among the lily pads, some flowers holding candles, are a frog happily waving as Bob passes and a turtle rowing a boat nearby.  Bob, mostly above the beautifully hued water, is wearing his chef's hat, eyeing his customers, and smiling.  Across his back are tiny tables with red-and-white-checked tablecloths. Pairs of birds are seated, enjoying their birdseed meals and chirping conversationally.

Sometimes when the best-laid plans shift in their results, so do personalities.  Our protagonist in Chez Bob written and illustrated by Bob Shea is a prime example.  Innocence can soften the cleverest and hungriest heart.  If you are looking for a title replete with laughs that lead toward newfound friendship, this book comes highly recommended for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Bob Shea and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Bob Shea has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This title is featured at author, reviewer, and blogger Julie Danielson's wondrous Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  There are many process pieces there to see.  
UPDATE:  Please enjoy this interview with Bob Shea about this title at Max's Boat on September 16, 2021.

Bob Shea Presents CHEZ BOB from LB School on Vimeo.

Book Chat with the Illustrator: Bob Shea for CHEZ BOB from LB School on Vimeo.

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