by B.J. Novak
My friend Tom recommended a picture book that has no pictures. It is actually called The Book with No Pictures. Tom has his wits about him all of the time and has remarkable taste in children’s literature, but still I paused. And then I noticed the author’s name. B.J. Novak — the guy who played Ryan on NBC’s The Office. This was going to be good… but was it going to be good for kids or just a bunch of inside jokes for grownups (i.e. booooring for kids)? Spoiler alert: It’s awesome for kids.
Given Novak’s smart sense of humor and excellent delivery as an actor, it’s not exactly shocking that he has created a funny, funny read. But he really shows how much he understands kids and writing and read aloud text. The book captures kids’ attention and pokes their curiosity with the first words. He begins by flat out explaining that there are no pictures in the book and acknowledges that a book without pictures might sound boring, but he very quickly hooks the audience by explaining, “Here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” [ominous doomsday music here]
Kids LOVE seeing adults make fools of themselves. Is there anything better to a first grader than getting to laugh at grownups? Maybe some of them love kittens or hugs more, but laughing at grownups ranks really high for most of them. And they immediately sense that they will get to do just that when they hear how this book works.
And guess what? The reader has to say things like, “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.” Cue the laughter! “My only friend is a hippo named Boo Boo Butt.” Their sides will be aching! It goes on and on; the grownup reading the book saying ridiculous things against his/her own will. It’s really genius and fun.
Aside from the slightly evil embarrassment factor that all kids will love, Novak is really smart about the humor in this book. He draws the reader in. Kids will love the not-so-subtle stuff, but the subtle stuff is where there is really magic. It’s interactive in ways that many read-aloud books are not. Kids are not recipients of the story, they are part of the story because they are giving reactions that Novak predicts and responds to with the next blurb the sucker/reader has to say immediately following silliness.
It’s really a joy to read, and kids will be laughing nonstop and just waiting for the next page and its text. Granted, this is not a book for children to read to themselves the way that some picture books or read aloud books are. But it is a gem of a book to read to children as a guest reader, teacher, or funny parent. Reader = hero!
If you’re looking for a real life testimonial, check out this video of Novak reading it to a group of children. That laughter is the proof in the puddin’.