Today, I’m finishing a short series of recommendations in which I’m highlighting three fairly amazing picture books that my family has been enjoying recently. These are backlist titles – no recent best-sellers or anything – that I think are perfect for any bored kid looking for an interesting picture book to read this summer.
I mentioned in my introduction on Monday that one of the picture books on my summer reading list was currently out of print and, I’ll warn you, some might think this is an odd choice for fun summer reading for a child. In fact, we didn’t even buy this book for our daughter. A friend of ours gave this book to my wife years ago, but my daughter recently found it on the shelf, opened it up, and took a shine to it. Mister O (2004) is the work of cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, a prolific and award-winning artist from France, and it’s a very singular picture book. I’ve never actually seen anything else like it.
The title character of the minimalist Mister O is a just a small circle with eyes, a mouth, arms, and legs. He is simplicity defined and so is his task at hand – he needs to get across a ravine. What follows is a series of deftly handled comic situations that feel like a glorious highlight reel from the life and times of Wile E. Coyote.
Here’s the set-up for Mister O – every rectangular page of this 30-page book is broken into sixty small panels. On each page, across those sixty panels, we watch while Mister O wordlessly tries to cross a deep ravine that’s blocking his path. Every page starts the same, with Mister O walking and then encountering the canyon in front of him. But, going from there, every page then delivers a totally original comedic experience as Mister O tries everything and anything to get over that hole.
In the first cartoon, Mister O makes several attempts to cross, but then decides to throw small rocks into the ravine until it fills up and he can walk across. There’s a panel showing the passage of time and then we see a very old Mister O, complete with a white beard, fill up the hole, walk across, and then… immediately die of a heart attack. (Note to parents: Mister O dies CONSTANTLY throughout the book, but his death is a Looney Tunes-style death where his eyes turn into two “X”s and he’s totally fine on the next page.) Mister O is back on the next page, trying to cut down a tree to cross the gap, but he’s attacked by a bird that lives in the tree and falls into the pit. Next, he tries to use leaves from the tree like wings to fly across the ravine and… he falls into the pit. This happens over and over and over again. He keeps going into that pit.
Reading Mister O does an amazing job of replicating the experience of what it’s like to watch a series of Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons and giggle uncontrollably every time the coyote finds himself on the business end of an anvil. He gets crushed, dropped, squished, he explodes… at one point, a bull even urinates on him. There is definitely some semi-violent cartoon imagery throughout Mister O, but it’s not mean-spirited at all. The main question is whether your kid can enjoy and understand slapstick humor without getting overly empathetic for the characters. When my daughter was younger, she couldn’t watch slapstick cartoons because the violence upset her. As she’s grown older, she’s been able to key in on the humorous aspect – she realizes that people aren’t getting hurt, rather someone is just telling a joke – and she can appreciate it for what it is. So, if your child gets upset when Spongebob gets smacked or when Daffy Duck blows up, Mister O won’t be for them. But, if your kid enjoys slapstick humor, Mister O has a lot to offer.
I particularly like Mister O as a road-trip book. (I previously posted about great road-trip books back in March.) It’s a big book with a remarkable level of detail on each page, so it gives kids this huge canvas to pore over while they’re trapped in the back seat for hours on end. And, again, each page is like a little self-contained animated cartoon, so, if your kid is into the slapstick humor of Mister O, the experience could be akin to handing them a DVD of classic Looney Tunes and sitting back while they laugh themselves silly.
Do you have any recommendations for some fun, non-traditional summer reads? If so, share them in the comments section below.