Friday, September 25, 2009

The Marshmallow Incident by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett; Panda and Polar Bear by Matthew Baek

Allow me to voice an unpopular opinion.

I've seen several reviews of the Barrett's newest book out already, and so far everyone seems quite happy with it. Well, I'm not. The art has the same grainy flavor as the previous Barrett classics, but the faces are stiff and lacking in expression and the additional digital color doesn't add to the illustrations. The many small speech bubbles are distracting and add nothing to the plot or story.

The story? Well, two towns are divided into left-handed and right-handed people. There is a large yellow dotted line down the middle of the town. Except this line is nothing to do with the right and left separation "The people didn't know who had done it or why". The Order of the Ambidextrous Knights guard the line and their marshmallows. Marshmallows? Yes, one of the knights won fifty thousand boxes of marshmallows several years ago. One day, someone falls over the line. The knights immediately go crazy and start firing marshmallows into the air. Suddenly, the knights decide the line is silly and should be removed. They have a town meeting, remove the line, and have a marshmallow party. "On the anniversary of the Marshmallow Incident" the towns have a marshmallow roast, supplied by the knights, every year. Umm, how stale are these marshmallows now? And, finally, the story is over.

Verdict: As you can see, the plot is meandering and illogical, with quirky details thrown in for no apparent reason and a sappy moral. Basically, a gooey sticky mess. Although some of the illustrations are humorous and the current popularity of the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs movie adaptation will make this a temporary success, there's no staying power in the lengthy, confusing story.

If you're looking for a strong picture book about overcoming differences, I suggest taking a look at Matthew Baek's Panda & Polar Bear. This gentle and simple story, although written for a younger audience, will resonate with all ages. Separated by a high cliff, the panda and polar bears have never played together. But one day, a little polar bear slips over the cliff and tumbles down into the mud. With a little dried mud here and there, he becomes a roly poly panda bear and becomes friends with the little panda bear. The two enjoy playing together until the polar bear accidentally washes off the mud. He's afraid the panda bear won't want to play anymore - but the panda is excited to learn about a different world and when the polar bear becomes homesick, he helps him get back to his family. The final spread shows the new friends and places the panda and polar bear have yet to explore.

Verdict: Soft and comforting art in greys, greens, browns, and blues illustrates this simple but concisely written story of friendship and exploration. Highly recommended for storytimes on friendship or bears and for fans of roly poly baby bears.

Marshmallow Incident
ISBN: 978-0545046534; Published August 2009 by Scholastic; Borrowed from the library

Panda and Polar Bear
ISBN: 978-0803733596; Published June 2009 by Dial; Borrowed from the library; Added to the library's wishlist; Added to my personal wishlist

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