December 15, 2010

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Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy

The Week of Top Shelf Reviews marches on!

Written by James Kochalka
Illustrated by James Kochalka
Top Shelf

Johnny Boo's friend Squiggle takes center stage in this story of finding playmates and learning that not everyone likes to play fair. After Johnny Boo says he's too busy to hang out with Squiggles, the small little ghost tries to find someone else to spend some time with him. The results aren't quite as good as he'd hoped, and soon only Johnny Boo can save the day. But will he arrive in time, and is he ready to face...the mean little boy?

I'm coming to this series in the middle, so I didn't quite know the history of the characters, but I'm happy to report that, as with any good childrens' book, it's easy to pick up on the world of Johnny Boo and enjoy the cute story that follows. Kochalka quickly gives us an understanding of the relationships of the characters without bogging anything down. If you know and like Johnny Boo already, that's great. If you're seeing him for the first time, that's fine, too.

As with the other Kochalka kids book I read read earlier this year, Dragon Puncher, Kochalka seems to have a perfect sense of how to write a book that's completely appropriate for children (as long as you're okay with a little bit of potty humor) but also gives the adults things to smile about. I know I laughed out loud at something that only required Kochalka to change the color of a character's pants, and there are a few other moments that should give parents a grin or two along with their kids.

Unlike Dragon Puncher, however, this series is 100% drawn by Kochalka, with his trademark flowing style, disregard for proportion, and unrelenting cheerfulness. Heck, even the mean little boy spends most of the book with a smile on his face. It's as though Kochalka, who has such a positive outlook on life, is unable to draw someone looking seriously unhappy.

There are brief moments where the smiles fade, such as when Squiggles realizes he has few friends or when the mean little boy shows just how cruel he can be. However, those moments are short and fleeting, and the book's subtle message is that a positive outlook can overcome obstacles placed in your path, which is something I think is good for kids to read and hear. Being a ghost may save the day (even if the ghost is under the weather), but it's because that ghost is so positive that he and his friends end up on top. I think children need to see that. Maybe it will help them when the negativity of growing older sets in.

Filled with bright colors, endearing characters that I'd be happy to read about again (and I say this with no kids in my house), and just enough jokes, Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy is a great series for kids that I'd recommend to any parent without hesitation. It's great to see a book for kids that shows a positive philosophy naturally, without any effort or distraction. I love Kochalka's adult work and am quickly becoming a fan of his stuff for children as well. Pick up a copy of this book for yourself, and you'll easily see why.