Laugh-Out-Loud Baby

Tony Johnston, Author, Stephen Gammell, Illustrator
Tony Johnston, illus. by Stephen Gammell. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4424-1380-1
Reviewed on: 07/30/2012
Release date: 09/04/2012
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 256 pages - 978-1-4424-3351-9
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A baby’s inaugural laugh—“That small spill of happiness,” as Johnston (Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea) felicitously puts it—is so infectiously joyful that it makes everyone in the tyke’s rural, tumbledown community come running. But laughing on demand is clearly not baby’s thing—even when visitors try “smiling like pumpkins” and the seemingly surefire “coochy-coo.” What will it take to get the giggles going again? Unfortunately, both the question and its answer fall flat. Johnston’s rustic lyricism is well matched to Gammell’s (Mudkin) luminous mixed-media illustrations, which portray an entire town of quirky personalities (the baby’s father sports a top hat and a ponytail, and thrift shop ensembles prevail among his friends and neighbors); there’s an undeniable mood of genial comic chaos. But the story feels woolly and unfocused—it’s one of those books that forces readers to flip the pages backward to keep track of what’s happening. Even more critically, the grownups’ desire to make the baby laugh one more time never translates into narrative momentum or comic urgency. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)
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