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Book Review: Telephone


by Mac Barnett

One of my favorite games to play as a child was the “pass it on” game of Telephone.  You whisper a simple statement to the person sitting next to you, they whisper what they heard to the person sitting next to them, and so on.  The thing you whispered inevitably evolves into something more colorful, often on purpose.  By the time the person at the end of the line blurts out what they heard, which should be what you said, it’s some crazy, messed up version… and instant childhood hilarity.  I remember sitting with anticipation and giggling, just waiting to hear the difference between what I passed on and the end result.  So it was with great nostalgia that I picked up Mac Barnett’s Telephone.

The story is simple.  A bird asks another bird to pass along a message to her son.  As the birds pass the message on to other birds, it gets predictably mangled.  The amazing watercolor illustrations by Jen Corace are truly essential to the story.  There is a real cleverness here that is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.  The birds are all sitting on a telephone wire as they unintentionally play a game of Telephone.  Each bird’s very obvious personality and apparel tweak what they hear.  For instance, the initial mistake starts with Peter’s mama bird saying, “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner,” to a little red cardinal holding a baseball bat, who hears and passes along, “Tell Peter: Hit pop flies and homers.”  There is a suspicious toucan, a nervous turkey, a tidy ostrich, and more.  When the message gets to a big, random, crazy yellow bird wearing a John McEnroe-style sweatband, it goes truly haywire and will have kids laughing.   Each page features one interaction, so each turn of the page brings anticipation and humor, and it mimics the real life Telephone experience.

There is a bit of a surprise ending, and the story goes full circle thanks to a wise, wise owl.  Maybe, just maybe, Peter will indeed get the message that he needs to fly home for dinner.

Telephone is a real charmer, and it offers grownups the chance to introduce an old-fashioned and simple game to kids.  My favorite thing about reading to my children is that it gives me an opportunity to relate to them and share my experiences and my loves, and this book is a prime example of just that.   Yes, it will take some explanation for kids who are unfamiliar with the game of Telephone, but it’s a sweet and silly way to make a fun connection with your kids and teach them something new.

The Honest Company The Honest Company


by Obert Skye

Obert Skye’s The Creature from my Closet series features mashups of popular fictional creatures/characters.  There’s Wonkenstein (Willy Wonka/Frankenstein), Pinocula (Pinocchio/Dracula), and Katfish (Katniss/Ariel, the Little Mermaid).  The second book in the series is the Potterwookiee, which is a miniature Chewbacca with Harry Potter’s lightning bolt scar and accessories.  Yes, a small wookiee wizard with a British accent!  Now you’ve heard everything.

The story’s main character and narrator/scribe is Rob.  He’s your normal tween boy.  He perceives every family member as an embarrassing problem.  He is unsure how to handle himself socially.  And now he has a Potterwookiee to deal with, too.  How did he come to have a Potterwookiee?  His dad replaced his closet door with a secondhand one that is suspiciously heavy and is adorned with the face of a bearded fellow.  One day, his mom made him clean his room, and he shoved everything into the closet together and shut that special door.  He suspects that his science kit’s chemicals are all mixing with the books, and presto — we have some crazy hybrid characters walking out.  He calls the Potterwookiee Hairy, which is substantially less fun (but a lot easier) to say than “Potterwookiee.”

Rob wants to impress a girl, Janae, and has a plan to win an Average Chef cooking contest to get her to notice him.  He also struggles with a bike-stealing, hair-ruining bully named Wilt.  His older sister is obnoxious, and his tagalong little brother is always trying to do what he does.  He needs all the help he can get, so a pint-sized hairy wizard may be some extra stress, but it also may just help him out!

The storyline is pretty simple, and that makes it very accessible.  Potterwookiee may appeal to many kinds of readers in the same way that Diary of a Wimpy Kid does.  It’s funny, kids can relate to it, and it has pictures.  Oh, yes, it has pictures.  Unlike Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the illustrations in Potterwookiee don’t dominate the story.  They are smaller and more subtle, but they are there to break up long blocks of words.  The text is sort of deadpan, while the pictures use more playful imagery.  This combination makes for a one-two punch of humor, and that makes for some genuine laughter.

There’s some substance here, though.  It provides a lot of great conversation starters for tweens — family dynamics, romantic attraction (and cluelessness), how to deal with bullies.  It’s also refreshing to see Rob turn to books for answers and inspiration.  We constantly preach to our kids to do just that, but it’s not often that characters do the same.  There is more text than in many books that appeal to reluctant readers and/or tween boys, and that balance with the illustrations makes it very comfortable. Skye’s done a great job appealing to this group, which is often overlooked or talked down to by the publishing industry. At the same time, even kids who love reading will enjoy this book and series.  The pop culture angle keeps things fresh and fun, and it’s a good and low pressure read.  And, of course, the appeal of a title character created from Star Wars and Harry Potter is undeniable to most kids.  My 8 year old girl and power reader insisted we pick this up at the school book fair, and she giggled her way through it in one day.    It definitely has a great range and would make a fun gift for any kid in the 8-12 range.



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