Wednesday, February 05, 2014

If you don't get it, a kid might...

I wasn't quite sure what to make of the picture books I received from McSweeny's McMullens recently. Not trusting my adult sensibilities, I took them to school and had some kid-readers give me their opinions.

by Angela Petrella & Michaelanne Petrella
illustrated by Mike Bertino & Erin Alther
McSweeney's McMullens, 2013

The first thing my readers did was to take the jacket off the book for ease of reading and discover that it opened into a huge two-sided poster. As they studied both sides of the jacket-poster and the end papers, they speculated and made predictions.

My adult self was not willing to believe the story of a mother who lets her daughter cook whatever she wants (boiling water+bag of marshmallows+hotdogs+tofu+burnt fries in a pile on a tarp), but the kids were delighted by the ridiculous fun of it. And they wanted to try the recipe on the last page for a dessert treat you heat up by running it (wrapped in foil) through the dryer to heat.

Hang Glider and Mud Mask
by Brian McMullen & Jason Jagel
McSweeney's McMullens, 2012

I have a whole collection of books whose stories dovetail in the middle, so I was predisposed to love this one, which "is uniquely constructed with two front covers, two spines, and a Z-shaped binding that links the two sides of the story." --Amazon Description

But hang glider? Mud mask? Intriguing, but not enough in the 20 pages of sparsely-worded text on each side of the book to populate my inferencer.

It was all worth it to see the two students who were offering opinions sit opposite each other, each reading her side simultaneously with the other, then flipping the book to read the other side. Then exclaiming in surprise as the two stories came together in the middle. Then filling in all the gaps (for me) with imaginative and probable explanations. Clearly, I didn't work hard enough on my reading. The two girls "knew" it was their job as reader to make sense of the story. I, lazily, waited for the book to do all the work.

by Jon and Tucker Nichols
McSweeney's McMullens, 2013

At least for this one I wasn't too far off my students' evaluation: they thought it was a fun book to look at inside ("This guy has a LOT of junk!!") and out (it is another with the signature McSweeny's McMullens dust jacket fold-out two-sided ginormous poster).

They totally missed the story of Mr. Crabtree looking all over his house for his lost dentures and going for a cruise in the end when he finds them! They were too involved in looking at the pictures!

This might be fun book for a picture reader who likes to pore over every detail of every picture, or who likes to sort and categorize his/her toys.


  1. I love it when students surprise us with their "close reading" that goes far beyond ours. Thanks for sharing these books!

  2. Looks like fun books in different ways, Mary Lee. The first one reminds me of when we made grilled cheeses in our dorm room with foil and an iron. We had all kinds of tricks! Love hearing what your students did; everyone's different aren't they?


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