April 27, 2023


B Is for Bananas. By Carrie Tillotson. Pictures by Estrela Lourenço. Flamingo Books. $18.99.

Counting to Bananas. By Carrie Tillotson. Pictures by Estrela Lourenço. Flamingo Books. $18.99.

     There are lots of kids’ books about not wanting to go to bed. Everybody knows that. There are lots of kids’ books in which characters talk back to the narrators. Everybody knows that. There are lots of kids’ books in which the recalcitrant-sleeper and talking-back character is a banana. Everybody knows that.

     Well, maybe not that last one.

     But it only takes one. And now, thanks to Carrie Tillotson and Estrela Lourenço, there is one, and one heck of a one it is. Tillotson has the narrator of B Is for Bananas going merrily along with a bedtime book, while the central character – Lourenço’s wonderfully drawn cartoon banana, with huge eyes and big smile and stick arms and legs – determinedly turns the narrative toward bananas of all sorts except the sort that would be going to bed. Not that bananas typically go to bed, but you get the idea.

     Indeed, parents will get the idea quickly: the banana/kid is going to keep fighting against bedtime and sleep until eventually becoming tired and nodding off. But that overall plot is scarcely the point of B Is for Bananas. The fun here comes from Tillotson wearing two hats, one as narrator using sleep-focused language and one as banana fighting back against bedtime in every way possible. All this is in the context of an alphabet book, too. The narrator insists, for instance, that B is for bedtime, C for cozy, J for jammies, N for night, and Q for quiet. The banana – who, by the way, not only changes the narrator’s word but also “alters” Lourenço’s illustrations by “drawing” over them – insists that B is for banana, C for Captain Banana (a very active pirate), J for jumping, N for ninja, and Q for quarterback (the penciled-on helmet atop the aggressive-looking banana that is nevertheless clutching a bedtime teddy bear is one of the funniest pictures in the book). Eventually and inevitably, all the non-bedtime-focused activity becomes exhausting, and by the time the narrator says that T is for tired, the banana is having trouble protesting: “I’m not tired. I’m T. wrecked. I mean a T. rest” (the illustration shows a very sleepy sort-of T. rex wearing a bedtime outfit). Things turn plaintive at the letter W: “I wish I could stay up later,” says the banana, and the narrator goes along all the way to “Z is for bananas…when they’re finally zonked” – a perfect ending to a just-about-perfect bedtime-but-not-really-bedtime tale.

     This is actually the second time Tillotson and Lourenço have used a banana theme to exceptionally good effect. Before the alphabet banana book, there was a numbers banana book, and it is hard to imagine buying and reading either without wanting to buy and read the other. Counting to Bananas, described as “a mostly rhyming fruit book,” has the banana – here sporting a bowtie rather than jammies – waking up at the beginning, then modestly avoiding intruding on the narrator as the text presents “1 plum, 2 figs, 3 oranges,” all featuring wonderfully expressive faces courtesy of Lourenço’s adept art. Things get argumentative at the number 4, though, with the narrator saying “4 pigs” and the banana barging in and objecting that “pigs aren’t fruit” and the narrator replying that “no other fruit rhymes with figs.” Matters go rapidly downhill from then on, gaining both speed and hilarity. The number 8 gets bears (to rhyme with pears), the number 10 gets plantains (almost bananas but not quite), and by the number 16 the narrator is offering leeches (to rhyme with peaches). Eventually we get to 20 baboons (rhyming with 18 prunes) and, when the banana objects, that gets changed to 20 raccoons (also rhyming with 18 prunes). It is only with a final leap to the number 100 that the banana gets its due – and comeuppance – as the narrator offers “100 apes” (a rhyme with grapes) that all happen to be hungry for, you guessed it, a banana. The banana’s final escape, running all the way off the page, is exactly the right ending for this wonderful send-up of a counting book that pairs so delightfully with B Is for Bananas as a wonderful send-up of a bedtime book. And just to provide kids and adults alike with a little extra fun, both books have front and back covers inside the wraparound paper jackets that are completely different from what appears on the jackets themselves – an added dose of amusement that carries the banana theme in a whole series of new and equally silly directions. What will Tillotson and Lourenço come up with next? No idea, but it is a pretty good bet that whatever it is will once again go bananas.

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