Fuse #8

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Review of the Day: Shoo, Fly Guy!

Shoo, Fly Guy! by Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books, Scholastic Inc. $5.99

The parent that walks into the children’s room of the public library for the first time since they themselves were children is always easy to spot. Their steps are halting and every quaking cell of their body indicates that this is the last place they could ever want to willingly be. Such parents are usually at home in bookstores were they fall into the familiar pattern of buy/sell. Libraries, to them, represent scary places where the regular rules don’t apply. Few items are ever in pristine store-like condition. The employees are better informed than some of their bookstore brethren and instill a kind of primal fear in anyone who has had to suffer at the hands of a cruel children’s librarian in the past. So as I sit at my small but supposedly imposing Reference Desk and watch such patrons approach me, I like to speak softly to them and maintain gentle eye-contact.

“Uh... my child has just started reading and I... uh... I wondered if you had a section...”

At this point in the proceedings the patron usually trails off and starts examining the Captain Underpants poster behind my desk like it’s the most fascinating bit of advertising they’ve ever had the opportunity to examine. Keeping my voice low and calm I guide the reluctant patron to our easy reader section. I’m just about to leave them there too when the parent suddenly remembers that they know nothing about children’s books aside from the occasional Dr. Seuss they themselves read when young. They want recommendations and as you begin to show them a couple books it becomes clear that they are still trapped in the Newer Is Better mindset. At this moment, the librarian has what may be their one and only chance to rope the patron into checking out a book that will win over both them AND their children in one fell swoop. Lose them now and you may never see that parent darken your children’s room doorway again. Enter Tedd Arnold to the rescue. His books are brand spanking new, satisfying those patrons for whom anything older than 3 years is bupkiss. His books are funny, thereby guaranteeing that new child readers will want to hear his stories over and over. And his books have simple words and lots of pictures for those kids just starting to read on their own. And so, by telling you this regular event in my average workday, I introduce you to Tedd Arnold’s fabulous further follow-up to his award winning "Fly Guy" series. In “Shoo, Fly Guy!” our ever-buzzin’ hero is back and he’s hitting the town in search of the ultimate meal.

Life is good for Fly Guy and his child owner, Buzz. Buzz treats Fly Guy quite well, offering him fun, a house, and delicious “brown, oozy, lumpy, and smelly” food. One day Fly Guy goes for a quick flight and when he returns home finds a note saying that Buzz has gone on a picnic. While in search of his elusive boy, Fly Guy becomes a tad hungry and a variety of meals present themselves to him. The first isn’t oozy, lumpy, or smelly but it is brown so he goes for it only to be shooed away. The second isn’t brown, lumpy, or smelly but it is oozy so he goes for THAT food only to be shooed away again. This goes on until at long last Fly Guy finds his beloved Buzz alongside his favorite food of all time; delicious Shoo Fly Pie.

Arnold’s familiar bug-eyed characters have the kind of instant appeal that charms even the most book-phobic of preschoolers. They have a kind of cartoonish glee about them, mirrored perfectly in the silly and gross (but never disgusting) storylines alongside them. “Shoo, Fly Guy!” walks the line between kid-appeal yuckiness and honest-to-goodness top notch writing. It is, should anyone ask you, insanely difficult to write really good and really simple children’s books. The “Fly Guy” books are great examples of how to balance storytelling with basic sentences and interesting pictures. Add in the gooey stuff and there’s no way you could go wrong with this book.

Certainly if you’re interested in having a fly-related storytime, “Shoo, Fly Guy!” and its fixation on ooey-gooey foodstuffs would pair quite beautifully with Judy Sierra's, “Thelonious Monster’s Sky High Fly Pie”. So should you find yourself someday guiding a reluctant and frightened adult through the scary world of early readers, make Tedd Arnold your go-to guy. A little something for everyone and a whole lotta great reading.


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