on April 11, 2005
Alexis Deacon's distinctive artwork offers an impressive visual context for Jitterbug Jam, Barbara Jean Hicks' original story about Bobo, a young monster who is afraid of what is under his bed at night. Bobo is sure there is a boy lurking underneath his bed, with "pink skin and orange fur on his head where his horns should be". Bobo's brother chastises him for being a scaredy-cat; Bobo's grandpa, Boo-Dad, knows exactly how to scare the fearful creature away. Yet after being frightened for such a long time, Bobo considers taking matters into his own paws and discovering if the creature under the bed really is that terrible! A charming and wonderful story about how new friends could be just around the corner.
on May 16, 2006
This book gets a 10 out of 5 for the illustrations - ok so that is an impossible score, but this is just such a superbly illustrated book, My children and I just look at it for huge periods of time, talking about the pictures, and what the detail in them is about.
I found the story strong, but not as riveting as some. It has some hugely original touches - the grandfather monster, the jitterbug jam, and the scary ginger haired boy under the bed (who is making bobo scared). The story is less interesting than the illustrations though. It is fun, original, but it doesn't seem to flow as easily as other children's books, relying on some good ideas to take it through rahter than smoothly flowing text.
As I said, the illustrations are just so amazing. The characters are appealing, and the way emotion is conveyed is really great. How the head is held, the carriage of the body, the hugging. There are a huge array of presentations too - full page pictures, sometimes small figures on a ribbon.
My children are fascinated by it. It is simply a wonderful book and I will be looking out for more of the same. It desrves to be a classic
Here's what I love about children's books. Any author can take a worn overdone concept and make a book out of it. If the author is good, however, the worn overdone concept becomes storytime gold. Adult books, for all their charms, haven't the advantages that children's picture books have in this respect. Now when I first heard the concept of "Jitterbug Jam" I was unimpressed. Seemed to me we'd seen it all before. Monster under bed, kid scared, monster scared, they meet, and all ends up ducky by the title's finale. Ho hum. Adding to my ignorance was author Barbara Jean Hicks. It appears that prior to this book she was best known for her Christian romance novels. I kid you not. Such written works may have their following, but they rarely cross over into kiddie lit very smoothly. Illustrator Alexis Deacon was slightly more familiar, if only because he created that odd little bugger, "Beegu", not so long ago. Then I took a deeper read of "Jitterbug Jam" and all half-hearted whimpers about familiarity went skittering out the door. Cute without pandering and treading a delicate line between the precious and the preachy, the book ends up being a highly intelligent cry from a little monster that all children will be able to identify with.
Bobo the jammy-wearing monster and hero of our tale is not going to bed tonight. No sir, nuh-uh, not gonna do it. Why? Because it is crystal clear to Bobo that there is a boy under his bed. A particularly scary boy at that with, "pink skin and orange fur on his head where his horns by right should be". Fortunately his one-monster protest is interrupted by the presence of his beloved grandfather, Boo-Dad. When Bobo tells Boo-Dad his fear, his grandpa tells him a story of when HE was a little monster and encountered a real live girl of his own. And what did Boo-Dad do in the face of such a threat? Why he ran away, of course. To Bobo, though, Boo-Dad tells him the number one way to deal with a boy. You just look `im in the eye, grin, and say, "Hey, Boy! I'm Bobo! You new round here?". Bob follows his grandpa's advice but rather than scaring the boy he finds that the kid is hiding under the bed cause he's playing hide and seek with his brother. Bobo's brother never plays with HIM, so he is naturally envious of his new acquaintance. But when the monster thinks about it, it seems clear enough to him that in this boy he might find a playmate of his own. So the next time that boy comes around Bobo is, "going to slide a slice of bread and jitterbug jam down under my bed...and see what happens".
Barbara Jean Hicks adopts a comfortable down-home vernacular when she relates Bobo's thoughts and feelings. When she says that, "everyone's swiggin' hot bug juice and scarfin' big old monster slabs of homemade bread with jitterbug jam like they been starved since half past June", you feel so doggone comfortable taking in Hicks' words that you may be inclined to read them over and over and over out loud. Though the prose itself is lovely, it's what the story is trying to say that really comes across. This is an extraordinarily subtle book about accepting someone who is different. Unlike some books that shall remain nameless (you know who you are!!!) it doesn't bash you over the head with the message or shout in your ear that you should love thy neighbor yadda yadda yadda. The book never makes a big point about it, but it is clear that Bobo's beloved Boo-Dad and mother don't understand humans in the least. They may even harbor a few prejudices about them. Young Bobo, on the other hand, finds the boy to be a surprisingly familiar guest as, "he has a brother and plays Hide `n' Seek and says `please' and `thank you' just like Mama taught me". So it is the youngest person in our story who has the guts and the wherewithal to look beyond the boy's frightening orange head fur to see someone remarkably like himself.
A first glance at this title may remind the reader of the picture books, "No Such Thing" by Jackie French Koller and "Papa!" by Philippe Corentin. In both cases a monster is just as afraid of a boy as that boy is of that monster. Why is it always boys, by the way? Are girls not supposed to be afraid of monsters? Are the children's authors of the world under the impression that while girls go to bed every night fearless of the critters lurking in the dark, boys are essentially beddy-bye cowards? But I digress... The point is that the plot of "Jitterbug Jam" isn't original. Not a jot. The writing and illustrations though? Completely one hundred percent new and sparkling. And the book couldn't be any cooler.
Let's consider the illustrations on their own, by the way. Alexis Deacon outdoes himself with this work, fully earning the praise garnered from London's "Sunday Telegraph" that proclaimed that his pictures, "carry distant reminders of some of the best illustrators of the last 100 years and yet still remain uniquely his own". This is not only true but it is so doggone correct that I am deeply depressed that I didn't say it first myself. Growl. In this particular outing Deacon deserves as much praise as Hicks. Some picture books are good because they rely so heavily on an illustrator's pictures (as with Ana Juan's books) or because they are worded in a particularly clever way (as in Kevin Henkes'). "Jitterbug Jam" offers equal amounts of brilliance on either ends of the spectrum. In Deacon's case, his pictures do beautiful things with light, fabric, and small easy-to-miss details. He's also not afraid to decorate a fancy border when the mood strikes. When Boo-Dad tells the story of meeting a little girl when he was young, the story is suddenly embroidered with illustrations worthy of Beatrix Potter herself. The borders are sometimes black and white sketches of creepy-crawly animals, sometimes plain black backgrounds on which four separate panels can pop out at the reader (not literally, of course), and sometimes are lush green leafy images of scary (to monsters) sunlit gardens. The first two pages of this tale within a tale also are awash in a creamy yellow light that makes it perfectly clear that the story takes place in the middle of the day. Finally, consider the sheer detail Deacon is capable of. Did you notice that the tip of Bobo's tail ends in a mace? Or that the boy forgets one of his shoes and Bobo meditates on it while curled comfortably up in his mother's lap? How about the eyeballs and bugs on his mother's dress? Did you notice that? A person could stare and stare at this book until their eyes blurred out of focus and still not catch all that there is to see. Amazing.
It's funny to consider why it is that America got "Jitterbug Jam" secondhand. You see the book was originally published in Great Britain in 2004. Why is this, you might ask? Well, according to Ms. Barbara Jean Hicks' website, the book was turned down by twenty American publishers before Hutchinson Children's Books in London took at chance on it. In 2005, the United States got a taste of it as well via the now certainly humbled Farrar, Straus and Giroux. What is clear is that we're lucky to have gotten it this book in ANY form at all (no thanks to you, you silly American publishers).
These days the whole monster-below-your-mattress genre has pretty much been devoured by Disney in, "Monster's, Inc". This may not be a bad thing, however. Kids who adore the film may easily be tempted into monster-related literature, and "Jitterbug Jam" is nothing if not an eye-catching, eye-popping delight. Not too spooky for the little ones and heads and tails better than the aforementioned "Papa" and "No Such Thing", this is bound to be a book beloved of children everywhere for years to come. A wonderful discovery of both author and artist. Consider pairing it with Mo Willems', "Leonardo, the Terrible Monster", for a truly benign monster storytime.