Sunday, November 25, 2007

Story with A-Peel: Once Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong and David Small

In a wordless picture book sure to please devotees of the I Spy genre, Jennifer Armstrong has luckily teamed up with Caldecott Medalist David Smalls to create a hilarious chain reaction street saga.

The story begins with a street performer juggling for passers-by just as his monkey takes it on the lam. In the first two-page spread, which precedes the title page, as the monkey heads for the tempting bananas on a grocer's sidewalk display and his owner gives chase, we see a gawking waiter spilling soup on a diner's lap. While the storekeeper berates the juggler, the monkey tosses the peel to the sidewalk, and a bunch of aloof cats look on from a fire escape, we see a couple of over-the-hill motorcyclists looking to park their bike. One of the cyclists slips on the peel, knocking down a painter on a long ladder who lands in the shopping cart of a muscle-bound pedestrian who never misses a word on his cell as he joins in the angry crowd.

Traffic snarls, horns honk, dogs get loose from two dog walkers, and a bicyclist is upended in short order. As the cyclist loses his shoes, violating the dress code (NO BARE FEET) at City Hall where he lands, a discombobulated judge steps onto a boy's skateboard, careening through an underpass and sending a baby in a carriage airborne as the hysterical mother and frenzied dogs give chase.

Just as the juggler reaches up to grab his monkey from atop a pay phone, the baby comes down safely into his arms, the irate diner gets his second bowl of soup (right in his lap, of course), and the horde giving chase arrives at the intersection where it all started, just in time to dodge a garbage truck colliding with a delivery van loaded with replacement bananas. It's an instant banana-rama street party with free bananas all around. The dog walkers flirt with each other, the dogs make friends, the street performer juggles bananas, and, of course, the cats watch the whole scene from their balcony.

Kids will love spotting the next potential victims of the fray as they unknowingly move into the scene, and it will take readers more than a few times through the book to observe all the humorous details. A map with key of the story forms the endpapers to help the reader follow the action from incident A to incident Q. It's all in good fun, with a Rube Goldberg-type lesson in cause and effect as a bonus.

Once Upon A Banana (Simon & Schuster, 2006) was named an ALA Notable Book for 2007.

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