Older children are not big fans of reading about middle-aged adults. That’s just obvious. Unless that adult is a furry woodland creature, of course. Then all bets are off. Smaller fry, as it happens, are far less finicky about their heroes. They’ll gladly read about grown-ups doing all sorts of things just so long as it’s interesting. And what’s the most interesting thing a grown-up can do? Act like a child, of course! Not just any child, mind. No they have to put on the mantle of a madcap, kooky, unpredictable, possibly insane child! The crazier the better. And there are few who would contest that when it comes to good-hearted, high-spirited lunacy, the top of the pops is Mrs. Jolly Bones. Perfectly living up to her name, this collaboration between Warren Hanson and Tricia Tusa may inadvertently teach kids the days of the week, but it’s also just as likely to teach them stranger lessons, like the fact that cake sliced by a power saw is much tastier than the alternative.
It’s Monday and Mrs. Jolly Bones knows what that means. Laundry day! With her animal friends aiding her she collects all the dirty clothes then cleans and dries and even irons them, one by one. After folding them “nice and neat” she then flings, “them out the window . . . to brighten up the street!” The next shot shows a bemused if baffled populace walking, biking, and living in the midst of a veritable clothes hurricane. Each day of the week follows suit with Mrs. Jolly Bones doing something normal at first, ending her actions with an act of madness. Each unique little twist varies, with some more ridiculous than others. By the end of the week Mrs. Jolly Bones spend the day in bed with occasional yodels at the moon, just in time to do it all again next week!
Hanson is a storyteller at heart and nowhere is this more evident than when you read the words of this book out loud. The story demands it, to a certain extent. I’m sure that there are those amongst you capable of restraining yourself from repeating lines like the aforementioned, “Then fling them out the window . . . so they brighten up the street” with an extra crazed sort of YEE-HAW sound, but I pray you’re few and far between. The whole joy of Hanson’s lines is that you can play the part of the prude for the first part of every day, duly instructing Mrs. Jolly Bones on how to proceed, and then at the end of each section you let rip with what’s she’s really up too. It’s remarkably cathartic! A readaloud storytime dream of a book. You keep kid readers guessing, completely upsetting their expectations over and over again. It doesn’t go quite as far as, say, a Guess Again by Mac Barnett, but it’s definitely along the same lines. Granted some days of the week are stronger than others when it comes to their twists. Thursday ends with merely making the kitchen smelly, which really can’t compare to bathing in a toilet or whipping out a power took to eat a dessert (quite possibly my favorite part of the book).
It’s also really interesting to look at how Hanson chooses to tell his story. He isn’t giving us a play by play of what has already happened or even what will happen. The narrator is talking directly to the heroine, Mrs. Jolly Bones, and telling her to do these wild and crazy things. And due to the amount of pleasure she clearly derives from the actions, this might even be interpreted as Mrs. Jolly Bones talking to herself on a given day. Because the words are a bit sophisticated the book doesn’t give kids the same visceral thrill they receive when they tell the pigeon in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus not to go driving. In fact, it’s almost the opposite, with the reader telling/allowing Mrs. Jolly Bones the freedom to do whatever the heck she wants. And what she wants to do, evidently, is defy expectations. Kids can relate.
There are author/illustrator pairings out there that lift a book up from the hoards of mediocre fare churned out daily to the stratosphere of future classics. Hanson may be able to tap into a kind of madcap insanity appealing to small fry, but it is Tusa who gives the book its extra added jolt of the crazy. Hanson may be telling Mrs. Jolly Bones to take a bath in the toilet, but Tusa was the one who gives the woman a snorkel and flippers for her feet. She also came up with the method of making sure you don’t feel sorry for Mrs. Jolly Bones. How easily this story could be interpreted as a crazy old woman’s senile actions. I mean it’s not like we’re seeing a MISTER Jolly Bones anywhere about. But Tusa takes the situation well in hand. Though the text only ever mentions a single chicken on a lap, the illustrator has given Mrs. Jolly Bones a veritable tribe of barnyard companions. Our middle-aged heroine lives with roughly ten animals or so. They help her get her coat on, aid in baking (and eating), and she’s clearly quite fond of them. Not since Amos McGee have we seen someone have this close and affectionate a relationship with your everyday zoo and farm denizens.
For me, it’s the little things that make the book really worth your while. The more you page through it too, the smarter it becomes. That scene of Mrs. Jolly Bones bathing in the commode is funny, but Tusa makes it all the funnier for the sharp-eyed spotter who realizes that there’s a long line of animals wearing bathrobes, carrying towels and soap, patiently waiting their turn. The bathtub on the left page sits forgotten. Thank goodness they don’t have a bidet! You see, a lot of the time I felt like Hanson would set up the pins and Tusa would knock them down. He may have come up with the notion of old ladies wrestling one another after their tea, but it’s Tusa who makes it clear they’re having the time of their lives. The animals, suffice to say, peek at the mayhem (which is too nuts even for them) from around various bits of furniture in the room. Another illustrator could have made the scene too violent or not fanatic enough. Tusa strikes just the right balance.
A great readaloud that works just as well as a one-on-one book thanks to copious details, It’s Monday, Mrs. Jolly Bones is one of the rare books that makes you aware and grateful for author/illustrator collaborations. Authors and illustrators in the world of picture books are paired together by their editors. Sometimes the result is magic and sometimes a dud. We are experiencing the former possibility with this book. Fun and frolicsome with just the mildest hint of danger, this is one unassuming little book that I hope gathers a lot of traction in the future. It brings out the best in its creators and in its readers as well. An undeniable delight.
On shelves March 19th.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee
- Guess Again! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Misc: Have some fun and read some excerpts from the book here.