Thursday, August 27, 2009

Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem

By Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Hyperion Books, 2009

$16.99, ages 4-8

The premise of this book is sure to have parents shaking their heads, laughing: a child doesn't do what he's supposed to do so his mom, thoroughly spent on getting after him to do it, threatens a punishment so absurd that even the child knows she can't follow through on it.

But what's different about this story -- and what makes it so delicious and fun -- is that this mom actually does follow through.

From Billy Twitter's perspective, Mom is always after him -- he hasn't fixed his bed and instead of finishing his peas he's balanced them with utensils like a circus act. Then one day she goes off the deep end and threatens to get him a blue whale if he doesn't do what she says. Billy, of course, doesn't believe she'll really do it. For one, whales are bigger than any animal on the planet. "It's not like you can have one delivered to your house overnight," as Billy says.

But like other kids who've underestimated their moms, Billy is in for a surprise on the next page: a delivery truck the length of a block pulls up outside his front door with a blue whale. And now it's Billy's responsibility to take the whale wherever he goes, including to school, which means lugging it up the street behind his skateboard and taking out electric lines along the way.

And that's only the beginning of Billy's troubles. Though his teacher Mr. Wembley is delighted to see such a fabulous creature (not at all shocked, which makes this story all the more fun to believe in), Billy's classmates aren't pleased when Mr. Wembley cancels the cowboy movie he scheduled for class to talk about the whale's baleen. Soon Billy is being uninvited to a party and passed over to play kickball at recess, and just when things might turn around, classmate Tilbie Peel falls into the whale's blowhole.

Once home, Dad tells him to wash and wax his whale, check it for barnacles, wrestle it and take it to the park before heading off to the sea to find krill and seawater. But as Billy tosses buckets full of food and water into the whale's stinky mouth, he discovers one way to escape his problem is to get inside of it.

Barnett playfully reminds kids to think twice before they ignore us, while Rex brings to life the enormity of the boy's troubles with smart, quirky humor. His portrayal of child's perspective on being scolded is so spot-on, it's hilarious. Billy's mom storms toward the title page with a rain cloud for a head and later, all you see of Billy's mom and dad's faces are talking balloons where their heads should be.

This is one collaboration you won't want to miss.

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