Can Somebody Please Scratch My Back?

Jory John, illus. by Liz Climo. Dial, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2854-2
An elephant has an unscratchable itch in the middle of its back. Climo (the Rory the Dinosaur books) draws the petite gray protagonist alone on an expanse of white, so when he sends out a call for help (which is identical to the book’s title), his plaintiveness is positively existential. Other animals come along, but the help they offer is ambivalent, incompetent, or downright dangerous. A hungry crocodile is a little too eager, and meerkats become inadvertent ticklers. Finally, a shy, sweet porcupine shows up and becomes the perfect backscratcher. This would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship in most stories—especially those with cartooning as adorable as Climo’s—but not this one. Once the elephant has what he needs, he hurls the porcupine into the distance, and John (The Bad Seed) has him remark to no one in particular, “Finally! Somebody who was actually helpful!” Adults who dabble in occasional misanthropy could find it funny, but children with a strong sense of fairness may cry foul. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Kathleen Ortiz, New Leaf Literary. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/05/2018
Release date: 03/20/2018
Other - 978-0-525-54337-4
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