Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Picture Book Month: Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske

Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske. unpgd. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., May, 2016. 9780545865043. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Sometimes picture books can be sly. You think you have its number. You might even go into the book with a bit of an attitude, a kind of blasé,"Whatever, impress me." Then that book might just suck you in, turn on the charm and disarm you. Just as soon as you settle in, whoosh, out comes the chair you are sitting on or the rug you might be standing on. Tables are turned. Humor turns dark. 

The first time that happened to me was in 2005. I came upon a book called Tadpole's Promise. Luckily, I pre-read the book. (I have been known to occasionally read aloud cold.) Warily, I decided to read the book aloud to my youngest students. With class after class, there was this beat of something after the "punchline," perhaps it was surprise, perhaps dismay, perhaps confusion, followed by a variety of laughter from hearty to not-so-sure. I decided to read it all the way up to my eighth graders, who were mostly delighted with a side of shock. They didn't think a picture book could do that!

My next encounter with dark humor came with Jon Klassen's brilliant, I Want My Hat Back in 2011. Truth be told, I didn't totally appreciate it the first run through but soon became a fan. I Want My Hat Back won a Geisel Honor, a NYT Best Book Award and was an ALA Notable Book. He followed with This is Not My Hat in 2012, and nabbed a Caldecott Medal for his efforts. 2016 brings this picture book trilogy to a close with We Found a Hat

Back to our bored barnacle. Is he bored or having an existential crisis? Both maybe? Barnacle appears as a single, fleshy, tentacled blob hanging upside down under a dock. The pale blue water is calm and the dock is empty. Indeed, barnacle is quite alone as the tide comes in and makes him cold and wet; then the tide goes out and he's hot and dry. A simple change in eye-shape is oh-so expressive as insult is added to injury in the forms of rolling waves and errant seaweed. But wait, there's a new googly eye in the water along with a flash of yellow. A sunny yellow fish swims into view and barnacle is sure that guy is living the good life. He imagines all kinds of fun, diving, soaring, flipping and flopping until something dreadful happens.

Again, when I read this aloud to my fifth and sixth graders, there was that pause, that slight confusion as that sunny yellow fish disappears into the belly of an eel and barnacle decides he's not so bored after all. The rear end-pages reveal a twist in the story so don't skip them.

Kids today seem to be so easily bored. This playful book gently coaxes them to reflect. The cartoon style and colors are pleasing. The speech bubbles contain a single sentence and the large, bold, simple font is perfect for new readers. Barnacle is Bored is a fun read aloud and a great way to celebrate Picture Book Month!

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