Written and illustrated by Daniel Cleary
Blue Apple Books, 2010
$10.99, ages 4-8, 56 pages
A grouchy dog made from pencil scribble discovers that good friends are hard to ditch in this hilarious debut set on the pages of a notebook.
As Smudge the dog scuttles across a sheet of lined paper, one friend after another comes from behind, asking if they can join him on his walk.
But Smudge doesn't want company, and he isn't afraid to be blunt about it. Every time a friend asks to tag along, he cuts him off with a few terse words.
First his guinea pig friend Piggie, a soft smeary fellow with faint little legs and a wisp of a tail, scampers up to Smudge and asks where he's going.
Without even looking back, Smudge grumps, "Somewhere. And stop following me."
Ignoring his testiness, Guinea Pig presses Smudge to explain why, and Smudge snaps back with the evasiveness of someone trying to keep a secret.
"Because," Smudge mutters impatiently, then quickly walks to the next page.
But Piggie wants a better answer than that and asks, "Because why?" and now Smudge is really peeved.
Running further ahead on the page line, Smudge vents, "Because you ask too many questions is why."
This time Smudge has gone too far and he knows it. But why isn't Piggie listening to him?
As Piggie hangs back, not saying a word, Smudge could easily make a break for it to the next page, but he doesn't.
Instead, Smudge glances back at Piggie and asks, "Are you still back there?" (as if he doesn't already know it).
When Piggie doesn't answer, Smudge turns around and tells Piggie in the most apologetic voice he can muster, "Listen, Piggie. I have stuff to do. Okay?"
Okay. Piggie is willing to cut him some slack, but he isn't about to let up because sometimes friend don't give up.
Encouraged by Smudge's gentler tone, Piggie again presses to know more. What kind of errand could be too private to include friends?
Smudge is now completely exasperated and yells back, "Like none of your business," his voice growing so loud his words become too big for his speech balloon.
Soon more friends are scurrying up from behind and asking if they can tag along too.
First comes Fuzzie the mouse, who looks like a tinier version of Piggie. Like Piggie, Fuzzie won't take no for an answer, so Smudge lashes out at Fuzzie, "Oh, great! Now there's a rat following me."
Of course, friends don't put up with insults like that, and immediately Fuzzie tells Smudge that he knows very well he's no rat, to which Smudge bitterly replies, "Yeah. Whatever. Same Difference."
By the time Wormie and Squirmie, Smudge's worm friends (two soft little wavy lines) and Foggie, a ball of fog (a round smear), appear, Smudge is beside himself.
It's time to set the record straight.
No, he's not in a bad mood, Smudge tells his friends. He just wants some privacy. He needs to buy something at the store and he doesn't want anyone bugging him about it.
But isn't that what friends are for?
Stop Bugging Me! is a crack up from cover to cover, and will delight readers who've ever doodled in their notebook, turned a smudge on their paper into something with legs or felt shy about buying something private.
I was amazed at how much personality a scribble can have with a little shading and some cleverly worded repartee, and at times I was so wrapped up in the banter, I felt like I was listening in on dialogue rather than reading it.
Final word: Cleary, an actor-turned-author, manages to put the lowly pencil smudge on a literary pedestal. It's just too bad readers can't coax these little guys off the page and let them crawl around in their hand.