Because I want to leave the reading experience to the potential reader — whether child or adult — I don’t tend to reveal spoilers in my reviews, even in picture books. But today I’m bending that rule to talk about three surprise endings that gave me pause.
The Grasshopper Hopped!
by Elizabeth Alexander, illustrated by Joung Un Kim
The grasshopper does indeed hop from different settings with the help of pull tabs and a cute, quick storyline. The art is sweet, the text is slight, and the tabs are workable. The grasshopper does seem make some questionable hopping choices, including into a refrigerator and the ocean, but that’s part of the fun. At the end of the book though, he hops into a frog’s mouth. GULP! Wow, I thought to myself on the first read, that seems kind of dark. But the page turn reveals a safe grasshopper and a smiling frog and the assurance of “Just kidding.” I think the surprise ending works here because the age of the intended reader, who isn’t likely to be thrown by the idea that yeah, the frog would eat the grasshopper. And the surprise stayed with me, though I don’t think that it’s a real issue.
Barry, the Fish with Fingers
by Sue Hendra
It’s a boring life under the sea, until Barry the fish shows up with fingers stuck on his fins. He explains to all the other fish how many things he can do with these new fingers, and soon everyone wants them. The question of supply and demand is answered with a timely drop of a box that falls to the bottom of the ocean and allows all the fish to enjoy this new discovery. The box also reveals to the reader that the fish fingers are fish sticks — which is funny and clever, but at the same time a little disturbing. Which, of course, is what makes the reveal funny and clever. I liked the book and the art, but the ending kept coming back to me. Should I explain to my four-year-old niece that the ending is funny because the fish are wearing fingers made of other fish — dead, cut-up fish made into sticks for kids’ dinner? See when I write it out like that, it feels kind of wrong. But yet, I don’t know that it’s so wrong.
It’s a Book
by Lane Smith
At the very beginning of this book, we are introduced to the characters — a monkey, a mouse, and a jackass. That’s the tip-off. The rest of the story involves a lack of understanding of what a book is, does, and requires — i.e., not hardware, not tweeting, and not charging — as the monkey keeps up the refrain that “It’s a book.” The book trailer that portrays this part of the story got a lot of rave reviews for the cleverness of the concept, perhaps tweaked with the irony of this ode to the non-technical being on a video or presented through the Internet. The official press and media reviews of the book itself were very positive. But here’s the thing: The book ends with the line, “It’s a book, jackass.” Okay, I get the joke in that the donkey clearly is being a fool in not understanding what a book is and the monkey is clearly tired of explaining it and yes, we all know that jackass is both another word for a donkey and a expression for a dummy, so it’s allowed to be in a picture book. Right? I don’t know. I’m having some trouble with this, and it’s not just me. I did notice that the Amazon reviews are very divided, with many parents uncomfortable with the ending. And I wonder if all the positive reviews are looking at this in that higher level of literature as Art, as opposed to actually reading this book to a preschooler. Or a classroom of kids. Or having to explain it to a parent at the front desk of the library. Or is this book really for older kids, even if the marketing and text might indicate differently? I asked this question early in the summer on MotherReader with some great replies in the comments. Check it out and let me know what you think, here or there.
Links to material on Amazon.com contained within this post may be affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which this site may receive a referral fee.