Book: Big Mean Mike
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Illustrator: Scott Magoon
Age Range: 3-8
Big Mean Mike, written by Michelle Knudsen (author of Library Lion and Argus, among others) and illustrated by Scott Magoon (author and illustrator of Hugo & Miles in I've Painted Everything), is a delight from start to finish. Big Mean Mike is a big, tough, spike-wearing dog, the meanest guy in his neighborhood. He drives a big, mean car, and he takes it to events like Monster Truck Shows. But one day, when he goes to load some new combat books into his trunk, he finds "a tiny, fuzzy bunny". Embarrassed (since "big, mean dogs and tiny, cute bunnies (do) not go together"), he hustles the bunny out of his car. But the bunny keeps reappearing, and bringing friends. Eventually, Big Mean Mike is faced with rejecting the tiny fuzzy bunnies or risking the ruin of his reputation. Of course, this being a picture book and all, things turn out ok in the end.
Big Mean Mike is one of those books in which there's a clear message (about not worrying about what other people think, and choosing the friends that you want to choose), but not a hint of the didactic. That's because Knudsen keeps Big Mean Mike in character throughout the entire book. Even when he finally gives in to the cuteness of the bunnies, he does it with poor grace and a lot of growling. Like this:
"He snatched up his keys and slammed the door. The bunnies gazed up at him with their sweet little fuzzy faces.
"Gosh, you guys are cute," Mike said. Then he looked around. "I mean, I hate cute! Grrr! I'm Big Mean Mike!""
The contrast between Mike's tough talk and the fuzziness of the bunnies is also hilarious, and that helps a lot. This contrast is conveyed through the text (in the above example, don't you just want to read "sweet little fuzzy faces" in one tone, and "Grrr! I'm Big Mean Mike!" in a completely different tone?
Of course the contrast is also conveyed through Magoon's illustrations. The bunnies are rendered soft and fuzzy-edged, while Mike and the other big, mean dogs are all strong, crisp lines. The bunnies are practically ethereal (making it that much more delightful when they growl at some bullies late in the book). Magoon does a nice job of making Mike big and mean, with harsh eyebrows, sharp ears, and big teeth, yet showing his awkwardness and embarrassment when confronted with the cuteness of the bunnies.
Both text and illustrations are pitch-perfect from start to finish. I highly recommend Big Mean Mike for home and school use. Parents and teachers can point out the theme about sticking up for one's friends (and thus for one's own choices), or not. Big Mean Mike works either way.
Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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