Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monkey and Robot by Peter Catalanotto

I have mixed feelings about Catalanotto's work. Some of his picture books have fans, like Question Boy, and I do like Ivan the Terrier (although the eyes are a bit freaky) and my library has lots of fans of his concept books, Daisy 123 and Matthew ABC. And not every author and illustrator can hit it right with each title. However, I think he really missed the boat on this easy reader and I am a bit flabbergasted that it got published by a mainstream publisher, and is even going to become a series.

Look at the monkey. Look at the monkey's face. Look at the monkey's mouth. Look at the monkey's TEETH.

I'll wait while that image settles into your brain.


The four chapters are fairly typical easy reader/odd couple fare, although they do have a bit of added nonsense. The two friends watch a monster movie together, although Monkey is scared and keeps his head covered for the whole movie, thus leading to what is arguably the best illustration in the book because you cannot see the monkey's face.
In the second chapter, the two friends are going to try playing a "nice, friendly, fun game." which is hard for Monkey who doesn't like to lose. There's a little confusion over the dice (Monkey thinks Robot is telling him to die) and then a dog steals the die! Fortunately, they figure out a way to play anyways. The third chapter shows Robot explaining to Monkey about the cocoon he has found, but there are some unexpected results. This was probably the funniest chapter. In the final chapter, they're playing hide-and-seek. Robot explains how it works to Monkey (Monkey is...oddly ignorant of things like cocoons and traditional childhood games. Maybe he spends a lot of time with his head under a sheet.) but the game doesn't turn out to be as fun as Monkey expected. Fortunately, all ends happily.

As I said, the stories are ok, sometimes funny, a bit odd in places, but overall not too bad. The art is what really turned me off though. I know Catalanotto is a decent artist, because I've seen his work in other books, but these black and white drawings looked like something a kid drew in school with a pencil and a working knowledge of perspective. Monkey is so badly drawn, even in the scenes where his teeth aren't freakily glaring at the reader, that I found it impossible to concentrate on the text.

I went to my vendor and looked at demand for this title to see if it really was as weird as I thought, or it was just me. This title was published in January and from June 2012 to October 2013 total demand was 1717. To put this in perspective, A Pet Named Sneaker by Joan Heilbroner (which I'd consider a filler easy reader) was also published in January and had a demand of 2893. Dig, Scoop, Ka-Boom by Joan Holub (which I'd think of as a hot topic/popular easy reader) was published in June and has a total demand from January to October of 2065. It was a Junior Library Guild selection, but frankly I haven't been very impressed with JLG's easy selections in the past (I use them for YA titles).

Verdict: There are some good points to the stories and I liked the humor at a couple points, but overall I felt this title was poorly illustrated and has less than stellar writing. Not recommended.

ISBN: 9781442429789; Published 2013 by Richard Jackson Books/Atheneum; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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