Book: Book or Bell
Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Age Range: 4-8
Book or Bell has a premise that teachers and librarian will be unable to resist. Written by Chris Barton (The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch) and illustrated by Ashley Spires (The Most Magnificent Thing), Book or Bell is about a boy named Henry who finds "the most awesome book about a bike." Henry is so enthralled in his new book that he starts ignoring the bell at school, staying put at his desk reading instead of going to recess, lunch, etc. This rebellion causes much consternation for his teacher, the school principal, the mayor, the governor, and a visiting senator. The authority figures propose a succession of bigger, louder bells. But in the end, it's Henry's teacher who finds a compromise solution.
I of course appreciated the premise of this book. Who doesn't like a kid who can't put his book down, and doesn't particularly care what's happening around him? With bonus points for the kid being a brown-skinned boy. Chris Barton's text is over-the-top and read-aloud-friendly. Like this:
"The school was not prepared for anyone to just stay put.
By not springing up with the ringing of the bell, Henry set of a
chain reaction unlike anything they'd ever seen.
There was an empty space where Henry's tray would have been.
The food that would have gone on Henry's tray went--
SPLOT! -- onto the floor.
The shoe that stepped on Henry's
food went SCHWOOP!"
The various bells also have loud sound effects, and dramatic impacts on the other students, and are sure to make kids laugh.
I have to confess, though, that I didn't really understand the ending. The teacher basically lures Henry out of his house on Saturday with the gentle "DING! DING!" of a bicycle bell, and the kids and adults all end up playing outside, with Henry reading under a tree. My seven-year-old took the ending in stride, but I didn't quite get the point. But maybe this is just a deficiency of understanding on my part.
It's a cheerful ending, with kids and grownups engaged in a mix of reading and more active pastimes. I certainly like that the book celebrates both a child reading and a child sticking to his guns to do what he wants to do. I like that his teacher seemed to have sympathy for him, even as the other adults were striving for control. I also like the cheerfulness of Spires' illustrations, particularly a madcap scene in which basketballs bounce all over the street, making "a little extra work for the crossing guard."
Book or Bell is an over-the-top portrayal of the way that a book can make a person want to escape from the rest of the world, and they way that the rest of the world may object, loudly. It's fun to read aloud, with humorous names and plenty of sound effects, and has joyful, multicultural illustrations. I think that librarians and teachers will find it impossible to resist.
Publisher: Bloomsbury (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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