Book: Chester's Back!
Author: Mélanie Watt (and Chester)
Age Range: 5 to 9
Kids Can Press is back with a new collaboration between author/illustrator Mélanie Watt (of Scaredy Squirrel fame - see my reviews of the first two Scaredy books) and her sidekick, Chester. The new book is called Chester's Back!, both a proclamation of a sequel, and a bit of a pun. You can see Chester's back on the back cover of the dustjacket.
The premise of the Chester books is that Mélanie tries to write a story about Chester, but Chester repeatedly takes matters into his own hands. He contributes commentary and doodles, all in bright red magic marker, has a huge ego, and claims all credit from Mélanie. This book arrived on my doorstep from Kids Can Press with a red magic marker attached via rubber band (though this is probably not typical of what you'll see in bookstores).
In this installment, Mélanie is trying to write a relatively dull, old-fashioned story, complete with a flat, simple background, and starting with "A long time ago, in a faraway land, lived a cat named Chester." Chester, however, prefers that the story go back further in time, to the stone age. He claims to have invented the wheel (and even attempts a copyright notice). Then he turns everything into a circus, and Mélanie tries to replace him. But Chester is not easily put aside, and eventually, he gets the story that he really wants to star in. Kind of. Mélanie gets the last laugh, though.
It's difficult to convey with words how clever this book is. Mélanie and Chester had me laughing aloud repeatedly throughout the book. Mélanie is clearly not afraid to poke fun at herself (or, depending on what you believe, Chester isn't afraid to poke fun at Mélanie). One image that caused me to chuckle was a sketch by Chester of "Mélanie, the bearded lady". Another page carried Mélanie's original "boring" picture, now taped across the middle because Chester the magician has cut it in half. The tape looks so real that I had to touch the book to check (the pencil and watercolor illustrations were digitally assembled).
I really think that Mélanie Watt is a genius (but don't tell Chester I said so). Chester's Back! is not to be missed fun, perfect for five to nine year olds who are old enough to take delight in someone who breaks the rules. I wouldn't give this as a gift for younger kids, because I think that the whole Chester vs. Mélanie thing could be confusing, but for kids old enough to "get" it, Chester promises non-stop entertainment. Mélanie Watt has hit another one out of the park with Chester's Back!
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher via Raab Associates
Other Blog Reviews: Young Adult (and Kids) Book Central
Author Interviews: See my interview of Melanie as part of the Scaredy Squirrel Blog Tour. There are links there to other interviews.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.