A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

illus. by Patrick McDonnell. 40p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2014. Tr $17.00. ISBN 9780316222587. LC 2013041668.
PreS-Gr 1—Beloved Mutts comic-strip illustrator McDonnell brings children a story about how even the most perfect things can sometimes become…well, messed up. Louie sets out to tell his happy tale about skipping and singing when suddenly a jelly blob interrupts his cheerful narrative. This is soon followed by a peanut butter ("AUGH! The chunky kind!") mess. Louie is horrified that someone would treat his story so carelessly. As the mess builds, Louie becomes more and more anxious, until a really big mess causes him to give up. "I'm just a messy old book…no one will ever want, read, or love," he cries. He soon learns a wise lesson; it is the story that makes the book, not the mess. Life is not without imperfections, and neither are stories. Classic McDonnell pen, ink, and watercolor pastels blend with mixed-media and crayon messes to make this untidy tale a victory for unkempt books everywhere. Keep calm, and read on!—Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH
Cartoony Louie's "perfect story" begins with a scene as banal and unsullied as it gets...until the page turn. Louie's panicked speech balloons interrupt the narrator as realistic-looking blobs of jelly and peanut butter, fingerprints, and orange-juice splatter derail his tale. Eventually Louie is able to see past the unexpected to what really matters. This well-paced story is messed up perfectly--spills and all.
"No pages were harmed in the making of this book." This cheeky copyright page disclaimer is undoubtedly true, but the very realistic-looking messes inside -- and on the cover -- make it hard to believe. For Louie, the cartoony character in yellow footie pajamas whose story is derailed by these (virtual) messes, it's all cause for an existential crisis. Louie's "perfect story" begins in classic picture book fashion. "Once upon a time, little Louie went skipping merrily along. 'Tra la la la la,' he sang." The scene is as bucolic and banal and unsullied as it gets…until the page turn. Louie's speech balloons interrupt the narrator -- "HEY! Hold on. WHAT'S THAT!?!" A purple gelatinous blob of jelly is followed by a glob of peanut butter ("AUGH! The chunky kind!"), dirty fingerprints, and orange-juice splatter. Discouraged but not defeated, Louie tries again. "From the top!" This time an ill-fated attempt to wipe away crayon scribbles causes Louie to give up: "My story is ruined…Go on without me." It's not over until the narrator says it's over, though, which allows Louie and readers to see past the unexpected to what really matters. More to the point and funnier than Scieszka, Barnett, and Myers's similarly themed Battle Bunny (rev. 11/13), McDonnell's well-paced story is, in fact, messed up perfectly -- strategically placed spills and all. kitty flynn

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