Each year I like to review one independently published title. In an era where even review journals like Kirkus have a section dedicated to self-published titles, it’s always a good idea to give some credit to the folks out there who do well on their own. Finding something to review, however, can be tricky. For every hidden gem there are mountains of schlock to sift through. Recently I decided to cheat. I went with an author/illustrator I already knew. Years ago Jonathan Allen, a British fellow, came out with one of the best little storytime readalouds ever to cross the pond. I’m Not Cute! followed the adventures of a Baby Owl intent on proclaiming to the world that he was “a huge and scary hunting machine”. Recently Allen decided to go the digital route, publishing the new bedtime fare title Come to Bed, Red! on Kindle. The book utilizes Allen’s customary fluffy protagonist fare with that hint of snark that always keeps things interesting.
Bedtime has come at last and Red Panda’s mama is calling her little one inside. Unfortunately, every time she tells him to come he explains that he’s just about to break his record in pinecone tossing, or just about to balance a stick on his nose for his longest time yet, OR just about shake off the last two leaves on the branch. When Red’s cries of “Just a minute” prove to be too much for his mother in he comes at long last. Then it’s time for a story, but every time Red tries to get his mother to come into the bedroom and tell him one she’s doing something else. When she finally does trot in, Red comes to the realization that while some things are worth waiting for, others should be done ASAP. A nice Author’s Note at the end explains a little bit about red pandas and how Mr. Allen got the idea for the book.
Allen’s protagonists like to proclaim things. The aforementioned Baby Owl, for example, is never happier than when he can say that which he is not. That’s probably why his titles say things like, I’m Not Sleepy! and I’m Not Santa! Other characters exist in titles that protest, Don’t Copy Me! and a very forthright Banana! (kind of a non sequitur, that one). Come to Bed, Red! is no exception and its hero is just as obstreperous. Kids reluctant to call it a day will find a kinsman in Red Panda. Now, of course, the slight danger here is that some kids will go on and learn the phrase “In a minute” from this book, but I wouldn’t call that a real worry. After all, when it comes to excuses kids can be extraordinarily clever at avoiding the inevitable. They don’t need a book to train them in.
There is a bit of “learning”, in the old-fashioned sense, in the book. For a little while Allen has the mother red panda pull the same stunt on her kid that he spent on her. This discovery on the readers’ part is slightly undercut by Allen’s characters explaining that fact. I wouldn’t say that it hurts the story mightily but it is a bit lessony for my taste. Far better are Allen’s illustration style. He illustrates his books on the computer, it’s true, but in doing so Mr. Allen avoids many of the pitfalls of picture book digital art. His characters have a handmade quality to them and though the coloring is clearly digital it’s done well. I was also particularly fond of the pages that don’t contain any writing at all. For comedic effect, Allen will include the words “Five minutes later . . .” on a single blank page, a technique that is always funny in a picture book. Sometimes it’s all in what you don’t show.
Picture books that feature kids with a real distaste for bedtime or bedtime-related matter abound. Since this is a Kindle book you might want to consider pairing this non-paper experience with books of a more old-fashioned bent like No, I Want Daddy! by Nadine Brun-Cosme, Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, or Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. However you read it, though, kids are sure to identify with this new furry hero of the I Don’t Wannas. Add this one to your regular nighttime round up.
Source: Electronic copy sent from author for review.