Since I both speak and write in hyperbole sometimes, you may not believe me when I say the book featured in this morning’s post is one of my favorite picture books from 2010. But have mercy, dear readers, and believe me, because here’s the thing: I can’t cover every picture book released in this world, now can I? So, I cover my very favorites from the year (hence, the rampant approbation and high regard for titles here at the ‘ol blawg, all hyperbole aside), and this is one. This right here is such a winning picture book on every level that I’ll be flat-out impressed with myself, something I rarely am, if my words can do it justice this morning.
Miss Brooks is our librarian. She loves books. A lot…I ask Miss Brooks why she dresses up for reading circle. “I want you to get as excited about books as I am,” she says. I think Miss Brooks get a little too excited. And I bet her costumes itch.
This little girl, as you can see in the spreads featured today, is a bit (wonderfully) left of center. You can tell she does things her own way. She has a healthy dose of The Contrary in her. Refreshingly so. A kid after my own heart, I tell ya. When Book Week rolls around, Miss Brooks—always with a sideways glance at our wee protagonist and always trying to find that one book that will win her heart—announces that she wants the class to pick their favorite story to share and wear a costume representing said story: “Really show us why you love it!” Our bespectacled nonconformist, though, warns her librarian: “I’ll never love a book the way you do.”
Now, if it’s not already clear, both the author and illustrator here have brought us two wildly memorable and authentic characters: No stale, stock, worn-out characters here, which you’ve seen seven bajillion times before (gotta keep that promise of hyperbole), thanks very much. (I see that Publishers Weekly agrees with me, or more like I agree with them: “The heroine makes an indelible presence,” the review states.) Miss Brooks is about as wonderfully weird and quirky as they come, and our recalcitrant young hero is funny as all get-out, what with her adorable surliness (a phrase I never thought I’d utter): “When I get home, I ask my mother if we can move to a new town. My mother says there’s a librarian in every town.” To top it all off, this mother, an artist, is blunt and no-nonsense and a very deadpan kind of funny as hell with her very lack of expression (but only at first) and complete absence of sentimentality: “I ask if she wants to do my assignment for me. ‘I’ve already been in the first grade,’ says my mother,” who keeps on keepin’ on with her painting, not about to give in to her daughter’s ill-tempered ennui.
When book week rolls around, nothing is quite right for the little girl: Stories about cowboys (“too yippity”), trains (“too clickety”), fairies (“too flowery”), and dogs (“too furry”) are shared. No-can-do for the girl. So…
Now, you can click on that image to see the full spread from which it comes, the right side of the spread being the illustration pictured at the opening of this post. Every book is too kissy, too pink, or too silly. “You’re stubborn as a wart,” her mother tells her. “Warts?” Her interest finally piqued, there’s no going back for the girl. And when she finds William Steig’s Shrek!, well, you then witness her transformation from disgrunted to gruntled. (Yes, “gruntled” actually means happy, which makes me happy just to know.) And when her mother reads it to her? Pure comedy gold, I tell ya. That illustration alone, not pictured here, is—very, very arguably—the best in the book.
And, because I think this picture book will improve the quality of your day, I won’t give away any more of the plot (though, okay, I just gave away most of it).
See these illustrations below (which come from one spread)? That fist pump the librarian is doing in the air when the girl stands up there to yawp barbarically about Shrek! MAKES ME CRY. Oh yes, it makes me tear up every time I see it. And that’s because Miss Brooks has scored. She has landed an epic win in the way we librarians want to with child readers: She found that book that won her heart. And, in this day and age of reading programs and reading for trinket-type incentives (translated: pencils and McDonald’s coupons), it’s extra fabulous to see an adult like that who simply models a love of reading and makes reading itself—and the kickin’ stories that come from these books—the reward. I think to call this a librarian’s picture book might limit it too much, though it certainly will win the heart of teachers and librarians alike. I think it’s got something for everyone.
A real charmer. Not to be missed. Kirkus wrote, “In a word: lovable.” That pretty much covers it. Love. Love. Love. I adore this book.
And I think we’ll just close with Miss Brooks’s glorious, triumphant fist pump. Enjoy.
MISS BROOKS LOVES BOOKS! (AND I DON’T) Text copyright © 2010 by Barbara Bottner. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Michael Emberley. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.