Mmmmm, literature . . .

h1 June 20th, 2007 by jules

Hey, let’s take an interview break and talk about an actual picture book (though we are having fun this week focusing on YA lit). Don’t forget the little post below this one, which highlights today’s SBBT schedule, and don’t miss all the great interviews.

The Incredible Book-Eating Boy
by Oliver Jeffers
Philomel Books
First American Edition: April 2007
(originally published in 2006)
(library copy)

So, there’s this boy named Henry who loves to eat books. It all starts one day when he wasn’t paying attention (actually, of all things, he’s got his head turned away from his afternoon snack to watch his cat take a dump, to be blunt about it). Instead of licking the popsicle in his hands, he licks a phone book.

Mmmm, phone books.

He then gets hooked on books, saying “I don’t think so” to that whole Just Say No concept — he eats a single word, then a whole sentence, then an entire book. “And by the end of the month he could eat a whole book in one go” (there he is on stage, the double page spread shows us, performing for a happy crowd as The Incredible Book-Eating Boy). And he’s not a picky eater — he devours storybooks, dictionaries, atlases, joke books, and books of facts, having devised a yummy concoction in the blender. To top things off, he got smarter with each book read. With dreams of becoming the smartest person on earth, he keeps eating books but then finds himself feeling ill. Worst of all, “{e}verything he was learning was getting mixed up.”

Sitting sadly one day after having given up his habit, it occurs to him to open a book and actually read it: “And it was SO good. Henry discovered that he loved to read. And he thought that if he read enough he might still become the smartest person on Earth. It would just take a bit longer.” The book’s close shows us Henry reading and chowin’ down on some broccoli, his new culinary obsession, but we see that an actual bite has been taken out of the final pages and the back cover of the book in our hands. Oops, Henry sometimes slips.

I love Oliver Jeffers. Just want to fly to Ireland, track him down, and shake the man’s hand for bringing us such funky-weird, wonderful picture books. He always delights and surprises. He’s brought us several wonderfully quirky picture books before (including last year’s Lost and Found, which Eisha and I love so dearly), and this one is just as entertaining. Children will get a huge kick out of Henry’s bizarre choice of cuisine (and especially the huge tooth-marked bite taken out of the back corner of the book), and the illustrations are pure and total Jeffers: his thin-lined cartoon-esque illustrations, teeming with goofiness yet lots of charm, created in pencil and paint. Many of the illustrations in this title are done atop the pages of old books, lined school paper, atlases, graph paper, etc., making this one fun for poring over, taking your time with in order to catch the little, enjoyable details all throughout the book. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of delightful nonsense, not to mention you will learn the Irish word for ejecting the contents of your stomach.

And, while this might seem a bit much, the entire story brought to my mind the ridiculousness of a lot of school reading programs that push children to read for the rewards and trinkets, thereby glossing over the very intrinsic rewards of reading for pleasure (Henry madly pushing himself to read/eat more for the notoriety vs. reading leisurely and enjoying a book). (Send me hate mail if you want, but I think those reading programs get it all wrong).

One delicious book. Very highly recommended.

3 comments to “Mmmmm, literature . . .”

  1. Nice review. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to review this one myself, but now that you’ve covered it I don’t think I can add much else.

    Except that ‘boot’ is another Irish euphemism.

    And that worse than reading programs that bribe kids to read are the parents of BOYS who promise them things if they’ll agree to “try” to read a particular book. These boys always have a crafty smile behind their parent’s back because they know they can drop the book after the first chapter and still say they tried. Grrr.

    Lest anyone think girls don’t play the game I have to say I’ve seen girls bribe their parents to try more challenging books in exchange for a book they want, usually about princesses or fairies. But I digress… again…

  2. This sounds like one I’ll definitely check out. 🙂

  3. […] can’t review these titles in the manner in which I normally review picture books (rambly like this or round-uppety and rambly like this). Yes, my favorite kidlitosphere reviewers are really detailed […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.