Manners Mash-Up: A Goofy Guide to Good Behavior
By: Tedd Arnold, Joe Berger, Sophie Blackall, Henry Cole, Frank Morrison, Lynn Munsinger, Tao Nyeu, LeUyen Pham, Adam Rex, Peter H. Reynolds, Dan Santat, Judy Schachner, Bob Shea, and Kevin Sherry
Dial Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin)
On shelves February 17, 2011
Manners books for kids. It’s a subculture that has been around forever and is unlikely to ever go away. From the more than 100-year-old Gelett Burgess series about The Goops to the 1958 Sesyle Joslin title What Do You Say Dear? (illustrated by Maurice Sendak, no less) to today’s Patsy Says by Leslie Tryon or those Emily Post books for kids (Emily’s Everyday Manners, etc.) there is no shortage of titles aimed at improving the habits of the young. Creative books of manners are slightly less common. Generally speaking all the titles follow the same Goofus and Gallant format, so why mess with success? Then comes along Manners Mash-Up: A Goofy Guide to Good Behavior which seeks to shake things up a bit. Aiming to please both adults and kids, it’s a manners book that teaches by playing up horrible humorous habits. Whether your kids learn anything from it depends on how you’ll teach it, then. One thing’s for certain, though. They certainly won’t be bored!
Fourteen illustrators come together for a single purpose. Each one is handed a different place where one should show good manners. For Tedd Arnold, that would be in the realm of good sportsmanship. For Bob Shea, it’s on the school bus. Covering everything from the supermarket to the dinner table, these artists do their darndest to then play up their various situations. For folks like Joe Berger or Sophie Blackall that means indulging in a veritable free-for-all. For folks like Peter H. Reynolds or LeUyen Pham it’s teaching by example. No matter their methods, each artist has their say, and at the end they must answer the most dreaded question of all: “What was your goofiest manners mishap?”
So the real question here is whether or not the book does more harm than good. Cause, let’s face it, there’s a reason kids have bad manners. Bad manners, at least in the short term, feel like they’re a lot more fun than good. Therein lies the rub in a manners book of this sort. If kids love to transgress (or watch others transgress from a safe distance) then we know whom they’re going to gravitate towards in a book of this sort. There’s a reason David Shannon’s David books are a hit, after all (and where IS Mr. Shannon in this book anyway?). As such, parents picking up this title need to be aware that the kids in the book sometimes make the admonitions moot by having a high old time whilst waltzing through birthday parties in their birthday suits or making faces at the opera performers. Fortunately, this is immediately apparent when you flip through. Nobody can miss that fact right from the start. And after all, even if the kids laugh at the antics committed here, that just means those same antics will stick in their minds. And it’s a lot easier to avoid misbehavior if you know what it is in the first place, wouldn’t you say?
There’s also a format to the “don’t”s that is sure to appeal to child readers. In a couple sections the illustrator has posted a list of “don’t”s, usually in an appropriate place (whiteboard, bulletin board, framed picture, etc.) that refer to actions being taken by the misbehaving urchins in the image. Kids can then read the offending lists and locate the offenders. Only a few illustrators have gone this route (Henry Cole, Frank Morrison, Kevin Sherry, etc.) but I think that their images are some of the most appealing as a result. It gives the pictures a kind of hide-and-seek quality.
It’s fun to note who the worst behaved of the illustrators are. The best behaved, bar none, is Peter H. Reynolds. Even his “manners mishap” at the end of the book is relatively polite (and, though he doesn’t explain it, involves his twin brother). The worst, however, is tough. You’d think the boys would have cornered the market on this one, so to speak. Between Dan Santat’s opera attendees and Joe Berger’s grocery cart racers, it would seem to be a lock. The women, however, have proven that when it comes to sheer chaos they are not to be outdone. The Tao Nyeu “picking” montage is probably the grossest of the bunch (a fact that is somewhat alleviated by the beauty of her sewn style). Yet it is Sophie Blackall (who displayed some younger sibling cunning not too long ago in The Big Red Lollipop) who probably wins this one. To my mind, playing with x-ray machines, skateboarding with gurneys, and answering the receptionist’s phone at the doctor’s office probably takes the cake. She had me at, “Bleeding? You don’t say!”
As for the artists themselves, I was interested in seeing if any tried a new artistic style for the purposes of experimentation. After all, each person here only had to create a single double page spread. If they wanted to test new styles without having to commit an entire book to the enterprise, wouldn’t a title like Manners Mash-Up make for a perfect opportunity? Yet for the most part, everyone stays in their comfort zone. Adam Rex with his gorgeous thick paints and Lynn Munsinger with her pigs. There were at least a couple instances where I felt the artists verging into new territory, though. Judy Schachner and Kevin Sherry indulged in an abundance of human figures, very different from their usual Skippyjon Jones / giant squid / squirrel fare. It’s Tao Nyeu who really runs away with the prize, though. There’s no way of telling if her anti-pick montage really is done entirely in appliqué. Maybe it’s all rendered to look that way on a computer, but I have my doubts. There’s a convincing quality to Ms. Nyeu’s three-dimensional stitches. Maybe I’m just a sucker, but if this is really and truly how Ms. Nyeu made the picture then I am on my knees hoping against hope that she does a whole book in this style in the future. After all, if she can convey disgusting qualities with mere thread, think what she could do with a full storyline.
It’s probably significant that Manners Mash-up should credit its existence to two previous books that established its multiple artist format early on. Dial’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? and Knock Knock took old jokes and handed them over to various illustrators (many of whom appear in this book) to play with as they pleased. The leap from jokes to manners is fairly short when you consider the potential for laughs. That said, in spite of the format similarities, this book probably pairs the best with a title like Officer Buckle and Gloria with its lists of rules and balance between loving safety and mocking it. On a serious note, there aren’t any manners books for kids in my library that combine so many places to be good (swimming pool, playground, cafeteria, etc.) in one fun-to-read collection. Clever parents and teachers will certainly be able to make use of this book on a practical level, while kids will revel in the abundant naughtiness. You get out of a book what you put into it. Even if what you put into it happens to be boogers.
On shelves February 17th.
Source: F&G borrowed from co-worker for review.