January 30, 2020


Up on Bob. By Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99.

     Is it possible to have a surfeit of cuteness? Where children’s books are concerned, the answer appears to be no. Sometimes a rather loud “no.” Case in point: Mary Sullivan’s latest foray into the unbelievably cute world of animals. Up on Bob is a less-heart-tugging version of Sullivan’s previous book, Frankie, which was about the trials and tribulations of an adorable, just-adopted pup coming into a household that already contained a dog and trying to adjust (ultimately successfully, but not without some heartache along the way). Up on Bob also features two cute-as-buttons critters, and also highlights behavior that “pet parents” will surely recognize. But this story is a very slight and very amusing one, played entirely for fun.

     There are no humans at all in Up for Bob: they are presumably gone for the day, leaving Bob at home. Dachshund-shaped Bob (his snout is too pointy for the breed; maybe he is a mix) is first seen on a very neatly made bed in a child’s room. This is not what Bob wants to see, however. The pillows, dolls, bedspread, even the books on the night table are arranged just so – wrong! “Bob has work to do,” writes Sullivan, showing just what “dog people” will have seen their pups do, or will have imagined them doing. Bob wants things his way, not the way those pesky humans have left them. “The work is hard. But Bob does not mind,” explains Sullivan, delightfully illustrating Bob’s determination to get those neatly placed dolls off the bed completely, that perfectly positioned bedspread rumpled, those books and reading lamp out of the way, until things can be arranged as Bob wants them arranged. “Hard work pays off,” writes Sullivan, showing Bob’s intensity by having little sweat drops appear on him even though dogs do not sweat.

     At last, success! “Now everything is perfect,” which means all the stuff on the bed and table has been strewn all around the room, the bed is a complete rumpled disaster area, and Bob is as happy as can be. He cuddles into the messed-up bed: “Now Bob can sleep all day.” Things could end right there – and the book would be just delightful. But Sullivan has a twist coming. “Suddenly everything is not perfect,” she writes, showing just the upper portion of a little kitten – ears, top of head and half the eyes – peeking over the edge of the bed in Bob’s direction. Now Sullivan puts Bob on the receiving end of the same writing that she previously used for his activities. Pretending to sleep does not work “if Someone is watching,” and all of a sudden, in the funniest picture in the book, there is a two-page spread featuring a horrified Bob looking up as the entire tiny kitten is seen in mid-air, leaping toward him, as Sullivan serves the single huge-lettered word, “POUNCE!”

     And now it is the kitten’s turn to apply the same diligence to Bob that Bob previously applied to the bed and surroundings. “Someone has work to do” (the kitten’s name is apparently “Someone”). “The work is hard,” explains Sullivan, as the kitten sweats while kneading and then carefully licking Bob’s ears. “But Someone does not mind.” And eventually we get to, yes, “Hard work pays off,” as the kitten, responding not a bit to Bob’s grimaces, finishes grooming the dog and then curls into a tiny ball right next to Bob: “Now everything is perfect.” And so, finally, it is, as pup and kitten curl around each other, one of Bob’s paws gently enfolding Someone: “Now Bob can sleep all day.” And so can Someone – until whatever humans co-occupy the space return and find out what has happened to the now-perfect room. But that would be a story, and a book, for another time. Right now, everything really is, as Sullivan and Bob and Someone all agree, just perfect.

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