Growing Bookworms Newsletter: June 29
Bailey & Bailey at the Museum: Harry Bliss

Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! by Mary Jo Amani & Lehla Eldridge

Book: Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! 
Author: Mary Jo Amani
Illustrator: Lehla Eldridge
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

ImagesExcuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! was the winner of the NAESP Children's Book Competition for Picture Books in 2011, and was subsequently published by Charlesbridge. Author Mary Jo Amani is the founder of Libros para Niños/Books for Kids Africa, a non-profit that promotes the joy of reading in Nicaragua and Mozambique, and a portion of the sales from Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! will go towards funding mobile community and school libraries in rural villages in Mozambique. Which is all lovely. But the question for me as a reviewer, and a parent, is: does the book hold up as a entertaining read? And I think that it does, though it's more a concept book than a story.

Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! features a young girl in Mozambique who is trying to read a book (called Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read!). On each page spread, she encounters a different animal, and explains why trying to read with that animal around is a challenge. For example:

"Trying to read with an
elephant can be surprising.

Excuse me, 
I'm trying to read!
Will you please stop
spraying me?" 

and this:

"Trying to read with a dung 
beetle can be stinky.

Excuse me, I'm trying to read!
Would you please use your little feet to
roll the dung in the other direction?"

Both of these made me give a little snort of laughter, though they aren't side-splittingly funny. I like that the book features some less-common animals, like the dung beetle, the African ibis, and the impala (along with the expected monkey, zebra, etc.).

Each of the examples conveys some tidbit of information about that animal, though the delivery is unconventional (and thus miles away from didactic). I learned that zebras are known for laughing (though I had to look this up to confirm it). I like a book that can teach me something new, without feeling like it's teaching me something new. And of course I love that the girl spends the entire book trying to read, even under difficult circumstances (let's just say that I could relate).

Lehla Eldridge's illustrations use a color palette that suits the African setting (pale blues, muted greens, golden tan ground). The girl has an engaging smirk. The animals are somewhat realistic, but rendered with a decidedly two-dimensional appearance. The don't step from the page, the way that, say, Erin Stead's do in A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

There's a little bit of a home-made feel to Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read!, particularly in the illustrations. The text isn't especially lyrical, nor does it include much in the way of interesting vocabulary words. But Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! is entertaining, original, and what I would call quietly educational. And those are all good things. If you are looking for an animal book that is funny, a bit different, and multicultural, Excuse Me, I'm Trying to Read! is well worth a look. 

Publisher: Mackinac Island Press (@Charlesbridge
Publication Date: July 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).