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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Review of the Day: Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down by Mark Alan Stamaty

Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down! How Elvis Shook Up Music, Me, and Mom
By Mark Alan Stamaty
Alfred A. Knopf (an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-375-84685-4
Ages 4-10
On shelves now.

Long ago, roundabout 1973 or so, a young Mark Alan Stamaty wrote a picture book. It was called Who Needs Donuts? and it remains, to this day, just the trippiest darn thing you ever did see. Trippy and remarkably beautiful. Somehow or other Stamaty was able to cram more tiny details in a single centimeter than most folks do on an entire page. It was like Peter Sis on angel dust. Since the publication of that book Mr. Stamaty has had various other titles for kids. Books like Small in the Saddle, Minnie Maloney and Macaroni, and Where’s My Hippopotamus More recently he’s played about with graphic novels for kids, with titles like Too Many Time Machines and the remarkable Alia’s Mission Saving the Books of Iraq. Now with his latest, Stamaty combines the graphic format with picture books, in the best little old autobiographical mash-up I’ve seen in quite some time. It may not have the sheer insanity of Who Needs Donuts?, but Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down! is definitely its descendant, and has a personal touch that kids everywhere should be able to connect to.

Mark and his mom were pretty simpatico when it came to music when he was a kid. When she got him a radio for his birthday, he would listen to gentle melodies or classical tunes. But that was all before HE came along. His name was Elvis Presley. The first time Mark heard him "a howling thunder of sound exploded into my room, engulfing me in a hurricane of excitement." The first time his mom heard Elvis she "burst into my room looking like a cornered hostage in a vampire horror movie." And never the twain quite met. Mark’s mother was convinced that this was a fad that would disappear. Meanwhile Elvis and other singers like him started to transform the face of popular music. Part personal memoir, part history lesson in music, part graphic novel, part picture book, Stamaty’s personal history with "The King" is a touching story that anyone can relate to. Backmatter includes photos of young Mark, photos of older Mark, and a personal history that even discusses him doing his Elvis impression for the President of the United States.

This is what a graphic novel is all about, people. Look at it. No lazy digital coloring slapped on without a second thought. No, Stamaty has utilized graphite, ink, gouache, watercolors, polymer paints, and even done in colored pencils to give each of these images the right texture and feel. Shirts and patterns are often colored pencils while the people’s bodies are watercolors and the font of their words thick bright paints. And speaking of the fonts, no Comic Sans for this man. Oh no. Stamaty has meticulously drawn each letter of dialogue. If folks are just talking then the words are all capital letters in black ink. But when they shout or sing, suddenly the words take on a size and girth they never had before. Best of all are the layouts. Panels aren’t just blocky squares. They become circular when they need to be, or take over entire pages. Sometimes, as when Mark hears Elvis for the first time, you’ve a full two-page spread to really drill home the excitement of the music. And the speech balloons! They start out normal, then expand and contract to an enormous degree. I love watching them curve around the action. The lyrics of music in particular are given a snaky quality, wrapping around the characters’ dialogue. Amazing.

And then there’s Stamaty’s way with people. Folks in this book have a tendency to talk to one another with their arms placidly at their sides. However, given just the right amount of stress or joy, they’re all over the place. Little Mark’s legs convey all the crazy Elvis gyrations to a beautiful degree. And then there’s Mark’s mom. Her sheer shrieking panic is a thing of beauty on the page. Just look at her. Her hands clutch her hair, as if to rip Elvis’s very voice out of her skull. Even the refracted light in her glasses has turned into jagged points that seem to cling to her wide-open eyeballs. This is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and it’s all thanks to Elvis.

Interestingly, the book this reminded me the most of was The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music by Bret Bertholf. On the surface this might be because it’s a non-fiction graphic novel picture book that seeks to teach kids about the history of music in some fashion. But both books also take a great deal of pleasure in drawing the faces of the famous folks of the time. Stamaty has a lot of fun showing everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Ray Charles to The Rolling Stones while Bertholf indulges in folks like Johnny Cash or Jake Tullock. The two would pair beautifully together for a historical music lesson. Each one catches the eye, though Stamaty stays in the realm of rock n’ roll and Bertholf skews into full-blown country.

Autobiographical graphic novels for young readers are still few and far between on library shelves these days. You’ll get something like Raina Telegemeier’s Smile or (heaven help us) David Small’s Stitches but actual picture book comic adaptations are as rare as Elvis sightings. Stamaty’s book, like all his titles, is a true original. From the beginning of his literary career he’s done his own thing and made books that look, feel, and sound like nobody else’s. Now he’s written one that kids will enjoy thoroughly and maybe even accidentally come to learn something from. Elvis lives all right. In this book.

On shelves now.

Source: Copy sent from author and a fellow blogger.

Notes on the (Back) Cover: The man’s attention to detail knows no bounds. Flip the book over and look at its back. There you’ll find details regarding young Mark’s bedroom that can only be accurate as all get out. From the colors of the bedspread to the Little Lulu and Beetle Bailey comic books, to the long since forgotten board game Beat the Clock. Heck, I’ve little doubt that the baseball cards scattered on the pillow could all be easily identified by anyone with a passing knowledge of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now THAT is how you do a cover, folks.

Notes on the Publication Page:
Insanity. You might forget that this was the creator of Who Needs Donuts? but then you look at the publication page. He’s drawn it, Stamaty has. Drawn it to look like the A side of a favorite record. He’s even written the words “First Edition” in large letters on the bottom. If I have my way, I’ll make sure he rewrites that to say “Second Edition”, “Third Edition”, “Fourth Edition”, and so on for many a year to come. I’m optimistic, I am.

Librarian Tip: You know when you have five-year-olds wandering into your library and they tell you that they have to do a report on an "autobiography"?  It actually happens sometimes.  And now, thank the heavens, you have something you can hand them.

Other Blog Reviews:

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  • To get a better sense of Mr. Stamaty’s style, high thee hence to his website.
About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Ed Spicer says


    You will be happy to learn that I have first hand, primary source validation that this book makes an EXCEPTIONAL first grade read aloud. It did not get a unanimous double thumbs up review (so far, only BOBBY BRAMBLE LOSES HIS BRAIN has that distinction), but it did not receive any double thumb down votes either (and MOST read alouds have a few of these–which the student has to explain to me with something from the text). It received double thumbs up from all but three students. The three students were ambivalent about the book.

  2. Fantastic! Ed, do you have an explanation of the thumbs up/thumbs down system somewhere online? i can’t help but think it would be a fantastic resource for teachers and librarians out there who also want to solicit kids’ opinions on books.

  3. dotdotdot says

    This title is such an absolutely brilliant and charming graphic novel for kids, but they published it to look like a basic picture book, and that’s a little disconcerting.

  4. Ed Spicer says


    I once polled more than 600 high school students and over 400 elementary students about what they like to read when no one makes them read. I thought elementary students would be less diverse in their preferences and more influenced by family and teachers. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I also discovered that both boys and girls really like nonfiction (However, I don’t like your nonfiction–but that’s a different topic). I also realized that we do a very poor job of teaching students that a good part of comprehension is coming to a conclusion about whether we like or do not like a book. The teacher is a tremendous power source in the classroom. I wanted my students used to the fact that liking or not liking a book is VERY DIFFERENT from liking or not liking the teacher or a classmate. Consequently, every time we read any book (and even when we have guest readers), we vote: 2 thumbs up, 1 thumb up, no thumbs up, 1 thumb down, or 2 thumbs down. I also want my first graders paying attention to the details of the text because regardless of the student’s vote, that student must be prepared to tell me about some detail from the text upon which that student is basing his or her opinion (in a first grade appropriate way). This process has yielded some fabulous discussion (my favorite is when the students–not the teacher–had a huge and hairy argument about GERTRUDE IS GERTRUDE IS GERTRUDE, with half the class absolutely loving it and the other half “too much Gertrude” hating it (and all turning pages to prove their point)! The argument was fierce but friendly and two of the boy leaders from opposite camps continued the argument at recess time while playing together quite nicely!

  5. Big fan of MAS art since the 1970’s in the Village Voice. Bravo!