Sunday, September 5, 2010

Uh Oh

(Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)
Written by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Dan Santat
Hyperion Book (June 1, 2010)
Ages 4-8

Having read and loved Mac Barnett's Brixton Brothers' CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, I could not wait to get my hands on his picture book OH NO!, illustrated by Dan Santat.

Let me just say that it is a visual feast, a gloriously illustrated graphic-novel-style-picture-book-that-defies-picture-book-convention. This is good and not so good. The good is that it is delicious eye candy from cover to cover. Dan Santat is a genius. Period. As someone who volunteers for a reading foundation, handing out free books by the hundreds, I know that kids would dive-in headfirst for this golden nugget.

The not so good is that I would be there to pull them back from the plunge and point out a book with an actual plot. Because the truth is that there's no there there. It's a premise (what happens when a girl's science project destroys the world?) with an unfulfilled promise.

I could add a spoiler alert here, but the subtitle sort of gives it all away: How My Science Project Destroyed the World. That about sums it up. Santat's stunning comic book illustrations show how a girl's (a girl, yay!) science project destroys the world. To her (and Barnett's) credit, she does try to fix the problem...once, by repeating it. So much for story arc. 

In a chilling way, it reminds me of M.T. Anderson's FEED, in which language is boiled down into its most elemental state, except that in the case of OH NO! it's the concept of story that's been reduced for mass consumption, sort of like being fed through the television. It's non-interactive. You look at it, but you don't really need to think about it.

I can't see being able to read this aloud at a storytime event because there's a lot going on visually that would be hard for a group of children to see; and it doesn't seem to challenge the imagination enough to sit down one on one. It is something that, like television, could be given to a child to keep busy, but that sort of ruins the point of a picture book. Little kids are learning how to use a book, turn a page, read left to right. The layout of this book appears to ignore developmental needs. So, maybe it's a new breed of early reader, for first and second graders who want to watch a book.

I could have said nothing about Oh NO! because I admire Mac Barnett's work (and Dan Santat, well, he's brilliant), but I found myself dreaming about it last night and getting upset. It's not really this particular book that's gotten a rise out of me, it's the style of book--a $16.99 television program or movie produced by Disney. Even the gorgeous cover, when removed, lays out to reveal a movie poster.

Please, don't let this be a trend. And Mac Barnett, please get back to telling great stories.

Source: I bought my copy at Orca Books.

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