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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Review: It’s a Book

It’s a Book by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan. 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Three friends: a mouse, a jackass, a monkey. Jackass holds a laptop; monkey, a book. In dialogue, monkey tries to explain to jackass what a book is and how it is different from a laptop computer. Monkey patiently explains, and explains, that no, it doesn’t do what a computer does (blog, tweet, make noises) because “it’s a book.” Finally, mouse can take no more and says, “it’s a book, jackass.”

The Good: I love books. I also love my computer. As both a blogger and a reader, I got a chuckle out of Smith’s book. Computers and books are two different things.

Most of the reviews and comments about this book have been about what age group this book for, especially given the punch line. This is not an instructional book. I wouldn’t use it to explain what a book is. It doesn’t work if the reader is in the position of jackass, not knowing what a book is. It works if the reader, like monkey and mouse, know what a book is and isn’t and what a computer is and isn’t.

Ah, jackass. For the record, it’s not saved until the end of the book to surprise the reader. On the opening pages were the three animals are introduced, “jackass” is used. I proffer the following: that if a modern-day book uses the term jackass, at some point it’s going to be the subject of wordplay. Much like “dam” in The Titan’s Curse.

What age group is this for? Certainly, adults. I can understand why some bookstores would put this in a humor section. It’s a picture book, but it’s not for preschoolers. Not every picture book is. So, I wouldn’t put it there. I’d put it in the J section of the library, where the chapter books / middle grade books are. That said, I’ve heard (via Twitter) of librarians using this with preschoolers and substituting another word for “jackass”. Now, that type of editing of text aside, I still don’t see humor based on snark as being something that most preschoolers appreciate. While I see the tone as sarcastic and increasingly annoyed, I imagine that it could be read aloud in other ways. If you have used this book with the preschool set, please share in the comments how it worked and how you used it.

As for reading this out loud and being surprised by the ending, well, it’s always a good idea to read any book to yourself before reading it aloud to someone. “Surprises” aside,  it’s always best to know the whole book from the beginning to give the proper pacing and to read with the right tone and emphasis. Besides that, with this book, “jackass” appears in the beginning so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise at the end.

Other views:

MotherReader visits this topic in It’s a Book, Jackass (honestly admitting that the use of jackass gives her pause) and Thursday Three: Surprise Endings

What Adrienne Thinks About That in It’s a Book, Jackass. As someone a bit disturbed by the futuristic guesses the books will disappear, I agree with her that ” books matter. Words matter.”

In case you’re wondering about the author, What In The Heck Were You Thinking, Curious Pages asks and gets an answer. By amazing coincidence, this also happens to be Lane Smith’s blog!

I’m a fan of Sue Corbett’s book reviews; at the Miami Herald, she reviews this under A sly comment on modern times: “It made me think: What will happen to stories before bedtime?” It’s a question I also have, since some of the things I’ve read predicting the end of books seem also to assume the end of stories.

The book trailer:

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. Liz, I’m curious what you think of the Macmillan site saying the book is for ages 6 and up. Not whether you agree with the age, since you clearly don’t, but with the idea that this is how the book is positioned.

    I’m also curious what you think of Lane Smith’s listing of other books containing the word jackass. To me, it makes it sound like even though words matter, apparently how they are used – the context and intent – don’t matter. I disagree, of course, but it’s the strangest rationale I’ve ever read from an author. I think there’s a question as to whether he needs to provide a rationale, of course, but since he chose to… I’m curious on your take.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liz Burns, Katrina Britt, Katrina Britt, Katrina Britt, K. M. Britt and others. K. M. Britt said: Review: It's a Book « A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: Jackass holds a laptop; monkey, a book. In dialogue, monk… […]