I have a soft spot for picture books featuring libraries and/or librarians (a la The Librarian, The Library Lion or Bats in the Library) and this one certainly fits the bill. This picture book is an absolute charmer.
Uber-librarian Miss Brooks is energy personified. She has a costume for every occasion, cool hair, and some seriously awesome boots. She is also on a mission: to find a book that the prickly protagonist will enjoy. Although the premise sounds like a lesson in how to deal with a reluctant reader, it is in no way preachy or didactic. Mostly it’s just fun.
Barbara Bottner’s text is spot on. She perfectly captures the tone of an unimpressed child who finds the onslaught of fairy, horse and train books prefered by her peers anything but interesting. They are “too flowery, too clickety, too furry, too yippity.” Eventually, with the help of Miss Brooks and her mother, the child finds the perfect book, which leads her to conclude that you can always find “something funny and fantastic and apalling in the library.” Amen!
As is the case with true picture book artists, Bottner only needs a few lines to create believable characters. Case in point: the narrator’s mother, who has one of the best lines in the book. When asked if they could move to another town, the mother quips there’s a librarian in every town. Perfect.
I’m always impressed when an illustrator who is not the author is able to create the perfect images for the text. When the pairing works, the result is something akin to magic. I can only imagine that Bottner was thrilled with Michael Emberly’s hilarious illustrations. There is little description of Miss Brooks in the text, and yet Emberly’s funky librarian leaps right off the page. I particularly enjoyed her literary-themed costumes- where does one obtain such a fabulous Very Hungry Caterpillar outfit?!The narrator, in a nubby woolen tuque and over-sized glasses, is the perfect counterpart to the larger than life librarian.
Though there are many memorable illustrations, the one that sticks out in my mind is an image of the child and her mother reading together. The mom is making faces, clearly throwing herself whole-heartedly not just into the telling, but the performing of the story. The girl, seated on her mother’s lap, is smiling and getting into the action by chanting along.* And isn’t this what reading to your children is about? Sharing your time and passion with someone else? No other activity approximates the physical closeness and the emotional bond that is formed between a parent and child during reading. So get yourself a copy of Miss Brooks and snuggle up to someone for some quality reading time.
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) is available now from Alfred A. Knopf.
*Spoiler: The magic book is Shrek! by William Steig. A worthy choice, though most readers today will associate Shrek with the movie and not the book. This makes me sad. Perhaps Miss Brooks will send them to the shelves looking for the source material? One can only hope.