Review of the Day: I'm Not Cute
I'm Not Cute
By Jonathan Allen
Currently out of print
My situation is a little different from most. I work with four other well-trained, well-read, fabulous children's librarians. That means that when a new children's book hits one of our desks, everyone starts salivating simultaneously. And if it's especially good the claws come out, the teeth bare, and the hair pulling begins. In the case of I'm Not Cute, however, people were kept fairly civil if only because the book's such a short read. But guess who got to bring it home to review? HA HA HA HA HA! I'm Not Cute first came to my attention when a fellow co-worker ran up with it clenched in her hot little hands and pronounced that this was one of the best books of the year. I glanced at the author. Jonathan Allen. I've never heard of Jonathan Allen. I looked at the cover. A very fuzzy owl, as wide-eyed as the pigeon of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus fame, stares at the viewer under the words of the title. I didn't know what to think. Then I read through the book, closed it up, and made a startling conclusion. This is one of the best books of the year, bar none.
Baby Owl, we are told as it stares fiercely at the viewer, "decided to explore the woods". He's under the distinct impression that his appearance will allow him to walk about uninterrupted. Unfortunately, a rabbit (with aspirations towards kangaroohood, by the looks of it) gives the cutey a big big old hug and tells him, "You're so cute, Baby Owl... And so small". This doesn't go down very well. The now thoroughly irate owl denies the charges. "I am NOT cute! And I am not small". What is he then? “I am a huge and scary hunting machine with great big soft and silent wings”. But a fox sees the owl next and before you know it he too is petting and hugging the Baby Owl. Angrily Baby Owl cries, “I am a huge, sleek hunting machine with great big see-in-the-dark eyes”. When a squirrel does exactly the same thing Baby Owl can take it no more. He complains to his mother that everyone thinks he’s cute but he’s not. Jovially his mother agrees that he’s not cute at all. But this does not go down as well as it might. After considering a moment Baby Owl screams, “But I am cute!... I am! I AM!”. Which Mama interprets, rightly, as a sign that Baby Owl needs to go to bed. As she tucks him in she whispers, “You’re so cute, Baby Owl... For a huge, scary, sleek, sharp-eyed hunting machine, that is”. And Baby Owl is content.
This is a toddler problem that I, for one, had completely forgotten about. Some kids just hate to be called cute. They may have big brown doe-eyes, or a head full of curls, or the sweetest little faces you ever did see. But call them cute? They’ll have none of it. They are, in a way, human equivalents of sleek, sharp-eyed hunting machines. But you know what I thought when I first picked up the book? Readaloud. This book would make an EXCELLENT readaloud for preschoolers. I kid you not. Think how you could make the Baby Owl’s voice dip and become dark and mysterious when he describes his very very frightening qualities. Then you could counter that with the other animals talking in a baby-talk voice to him as they patronize the little fluffball and call him cute. I half want to take this review copy of the book that I hold in my hand and test it out on my library’s next preschool storytime.
The books bears some similarities to Suzanne Bloom’s A Splendid Friend Indeed. Both books are misleadingly simply and extraordinarily good. I’ve always thought that the easier a book is, the harder it is to write. “I’m not cute!”, uses very simple words and simple pictures but is, in the end, a very funny title for both kids and adults. Not an easy thing to accomplish, I’ll wager. The art of “I’m not cute!”, isn’t as accomplished as Suzanne Bloom’s, of course, but for the purposes of the story it is perfect. Allen has done an excellent job at making Baby Owl look fluffy as all get out. You really can’t blame the other animals when they pick him up for a hug. He looks like a tiny screech owl, all peach and light orange feathers. Allen draws in a style similar to Mo Willems, but without becoming outright cartoony.
Yeah, I loved it. There are some picture books that a person would be willing to go to the mats for to get them on some Best Books lists. This is one of them. I’ll do whatever I can to let the world know that this THIS is a book well worth reading. A fluffy magnificent gift for any small child who happens to believe that they are a warrior at heart. Adorable.
Currently out of print.