Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lessons of History: OH, NO! NOT AGAIN! by Mac Barnett




Is our girl genius going to head off a world-wide disaster--an earthquake, a plague, an asteroid strike, maybe?

Well, no. Her personal disaster is missing the first question on her history test.

In what country do we find the oldest prehistoric cave paintings?

She said Belgium. Her teacher says France.

Undeterred by the old saw that you can't change history and the examples of those fictional characters who have run into difficulties back in time, our bespectacled supernerd quickly fashions a time machine from a discarded wading pool and a few knickknacks lying around the basement. The solution to her problem is simply to make a flying trip back to Belgium in 33,000 BCE with a few art supplies, leave a cave painting in an obvious spot, and voila! Instant A+ exam!

There are a few initial glitches. Our girl's first trial take her a lit-tle too far back in time, where she gets to witness the first fish crawling out of the sea and trading gills for lungs. Back to the old drawing board to calibrate the machine a bit. But, ooops! This time she lands in 1815 in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars.

But the third time is the charm. It's proto-Belgium: 33,000 BCE, and yay! There are two unemployed Neanderthal guys just hanging out around the cave. Our girl genius hauls out the art stuff and hands out paint brushes and a palette.

Hmmmm. It's seems that the ache to create has not yet appeared in these lads' genome. One goofs around for a giggle by sticking the brushes up his nose. (Apparently that elementary school gag gene had been expressed even back then.) The other Neander-artist tries a bite of the palette. After her inept cave dudes turn out to be duds, our girl genius grabs the spray-paint cans out of their hands and zooms inside the cavern to do the deed herself.

Mission accomplished, a stylish robot painted on the cave wall, she emerges, ready to fly back to the future where her A+ test will be waiting on her desk, only to find that her prehistoric pals have been taking her time travel trike out to tool around in time, returning with a few souvenirs of their sojourns with a Roman chariot and Napoleon's chapeau. OH, NO!


You know it!

As they did in their hit, Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, (see my review here) Mac Barnett and Dan Santat combine talents to tell another far-fetched fantasy tale in hilarious cinematographic graphic style in their just published Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) (Hyperion, 2012).

Our girl genius, like all time-travel protagonists, learns the trying truth that it's hazardous to history (and to your history quiz grade) to make even the tiniest change in old Father Time. The sight gags Santat adds to his bold illustrations (viz. the two Neanderthals pressing the enticing buttons on the spray cans, pointing them unfortunately to paint their own faces) set off Barnett's quirky tale to a T for Time. The imaginative design elements include endpapers showing the blueprints for the time machine, an appended map of The Loop Time Travel Service, and a dust jacket which reverses to reveal a movie poster.

"Barnett’s deadpan prose and Santat’s page-popping art hilariously reveal what happens when you mess with history, while delivering a light message about the perils of perfectionism," says the Publishers Weekly reviewer.

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