July 27, 2017


Billy Bloo Is Stuck in Goo. By Jennifer Hamburg. Illustrations by Ross Burach. Scholastic. $16.99.

Bizzy Mizz Lizzie. By David Shannon. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $17.99.

     Billy Bloo is stuck in goo. If you were he, what would you do? A helpful book you might construe. No worries – it is here for you. And YES, the book is written in just this meter and rhyme scheme, and YES, it is so catchy and utterly ridiculous that it is well-nigh impossible to get out of your head once you start reading it. And about the only thing that would make Jennifer Hamburg’s writing even more addictive would be digital illustrations so peculiar, distorted and utterly absurd that it would be difficult not to laugh out loud at them. And YES, that is exactly what Ross Burach provides. Wow, what a book! We first meet charmingly unhappy Billy, stuck in a huge mound of something that looks like a cross between melting green ice cream and a not-yet-set lime gelatin dessert. Billy sticks up out of the green gooiness from the waist up. But it’s all right – there are LOTS of folks who will help him get unstuck! First comes a cowgirl whose horse consists about 85% of head and teeth and seems to be moving very quickly. One attempted lasso rescue later and both cowgirl and horse have joined Billy in the green goo. Well, how about “an acrobatic troupe” that promises to “pull you from this gooey goop”? The mustachioed unicycle rider at the bottom carries a gigantic muscled performer (with stick legs) on his head, and the muscle man balances two woman acrobats on his index fingers. Surely they can help Billy and the cowgirl! Umm…nope. One mishap later: “Four acrobats, the cowgirl too,/ And sadly, still, poor Billy Bloo./ The lot of them are stuck in goo.” And on and on the helpful, messy impossibilities go. A hook-handed pirate somehow sails up and “plops in on his head,” soon losing his pants. A friendly wizard is even worse: he casts a spell that, instead of freeing everyone, doubles the amount of goo – in which he gets stuck himself. An octopus, a queen attended by 17 nobles – no one, nothing, can free Billy and all his would-be helpers from the goo. Until…well, when a tiny mouse walks by and inadvertently frightens the octopus, there is a truly amazing illustration in which all the interconnected characters leap or are yanked hilariously out of the gooey mess at the same time. And all would end well, except that Billy realizes he left his shoe behind, so everybody else helpfully leaps back toward the goo and – oh NO!!!! Then Billy Bloo’s not in the goo. But in the goo remains his shoe. And all the other creatures, too. There is no more that we can do! Just close the book and weep “boo-hoo.”

     The non-rhyming narrative is less addictive in David Shannon’s Bizzy Mizz Lizzie, but this clever “stop and smell the flowers” book can “bee” a fine counter to the tendency of many kids and parents to stay active and engaged in everything all the time. The title character is indeed a bee – all the characters are – and Lizzie is the bizziest bee of all: in addition to getting straight B’s in school (B’s are better than A’s if you are a bee), she “took dance lessons, acting lessons, art lessons, and music lessons.” Shannon shows her diligently doing all those things, notably playing the piano (bee-ano?) as a bug-eyed, bee-eyed bust of Bee-thoven looks on. Lizzie also plays baseball and is “a member of the Junior Honey Scouts,” for which she sells such cookies as “Honey Pies,” “ZumZums” and “Nectaroos.” Lizzie has friends who are not nearly as intensely active as she is; and one, Lazy Mizz Daizy, constantly tries unsuccessfully to get Lizzie to lie down and relax in a big flower. Lizzie will have none of it, because she is sure that if she stays super-busy all the time, she will eventually get to meet the Queen Bee. And then she gets her chance: there will be a spelling contest (that is, a spelling bee, of course), whose winner will get to meet the Queen. So Lizzie doubles down on the intensity of her studying, working so hard at learning difficult-to-spell words that she barely gets any sleep. But when the contest takes place – with the Queen in attendance – things do not go as Lizzie wishes, even though she does know all the words. Exhausted and demoralized, Lizzie finally agrees to take it easy for a while with Daizy, who has told her about “a very nice old lady who knows lots of stories” and comes to the big flower from time to time. And the lady turns out to be none other than the Queen herself – who understands the importance of slowing down from time to time. So by the book’s end, Lizzie and Daizy and the Queen are all happily smelling the flowers, “which, when you think about it, is exactly what bees are supposed to do.” And it is also what super-scheduled, hyper-activity-focused kids could benefit from doing, if they and their parents manage to sit still long enough to read Bizzy Mizz Lizzie and pay attention to its pleasantly presented message.

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