Picture books in which beloved toys go astray are the heart and soul of the industry. The reasons are infinitely clear. When dealing with a four-year-old reader, you want to present them with a tale that taps into their insecurities and fears without going overboard. Showing them losing their mom or dad would be WAY too serious for the format, and that goes for the family pet as well. Better to keep it low-key. In this way books like Knuffle Bunny (in all three of its various incarnations) remains a beloved institution. The newest entrant to the field is the beautifully named I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by her husband Marc Rosenthal. Part epic rage against the dying of the light/losing of the toy, part battle of wits between a boy and a cat, Bobo is about the kind of struggle that any preschooler can understand. And while I might have put a different ending on it, when it comes to stuffed monkeys, Bobo is where it’s at.
Willy wakes up one morning to find there’s something wrong. Something, or someONE, missing. Bobo, Willy’s stuffed monkey, is always on hand when the boy needs to go down a scary slide or sneak past a large dog. So where is he now? After a quick investigation it becomes clear that Earl, the family housecat, is the unapologetic Bobo snatcher in question. Thus begins a battle of wits between Willy and Earl as each find and take back the beloved Bobo. Finally, when Earl has proved particularly clever, Willy finds the two on the couch and surprisingly enough envelopes BOTH in a big, affectionate hug.
It’s a great little readaloud if you’re willing to give it your all. I mean, if you intend to read this to a group of kids then you really have to let you lungs rip with this book. Interestingly, the story begins between a third personal omniscient narrator but after that first sentence of “When Willy woke up, there was trouble” it switches over entirely into Willy’s own dialogue. This means that the reader has to embody Willy and his pain. That first cry of “I must have Bobo!” has to come from the heart or you might lose your audience. Plus it’s a lot of fun to scream. So really, win-win.
Of course, one thing you really want when you’re reading a picture book aloud to a room of kids is a kicking ending. You want something that’s gonna stop `em dead in their little sneaker-wearing tracks. Good endings to picture books can go the surprise twist route (My Lucky Day, Bark George, etc.) or they can just feel satisfying (Fortune Cookies, Fortunately). I felt that I Must Have Bobo came close to the latter ending. After searching through the home not just crying “Bobo” but also “Earl”, Willie finds both pet and toy snuggled on the couch. “Bobo! Earl!” he cries. Then, surprisingly, he drapes himself over both cat and toy. The text reads, “Here’s my Bobo.” So I full expected the final page to show a resigned Earl sharing Bobo with his human master with the final line, “And my Earl.” Instead, the last page just shows Earl taking off with Bobo yet again. It’s not introducing much of anything new, nor does it feel like a conclusive ending. I don’t think it’s a bad ending necessarily. If you read the book to a kid or a bunch of kids in such a way where it seems like “Here’s my Bobo” is the last line then that final picture can be an amusing capper on the piece. Still and all, I can’t help but think it would have been stronger with just that final heart tugging “oomph”.
The art of Marc Rosenthal has been pared down for this particular picture book, I see. Drawn in pencil and colored digitally, Bobo is a minimalist cousin to Mr. Rosenthal’s other picture books Phooey! and Archie and the Pirates. Not that it looks unlike his style or anything. Bobo himself bears a stripy-sweater similarity to the aforementioned Archie, a different monkey who wins the affections of a slightly larger cat. But where Archie had a lush tropical island to serve as his backing, Bobo sets its story against a cream colored world. The love triangle of Willy, Earl, and Bobo exists in a universe where only the essentials are required. I had fun watching the facial expressions of the characters as well. Willy is by far the most expressive of the three, Earl reserving his backwards ear displeasure for moments when it truly counts, and Bobo lounges eternally blank-faced through it all.
This particular book would pair well with other lost-to-the-arms-of-another titles like Olivia . . . and the Missing Toy or even Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I don’t know how many households in America are bedeviled by pernicious toy-snatching pets, but if you happen to know of one then I Must Have Bobo is a must have title. Personally I would have cranked up the ending a notch or two, but it still makes for a fun preschool readaloud and a charmer of a book. A husband and wife co-effort that yields adorable results.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Other Blog Reviews:
- The book is featured quite beautifully over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
- Read some excerpts of the book here.