cover image The Panda Problem

The Panda Problem

Deborah Underwood, illus. by Hannah Marks. Dial, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-735-22850-4

Being a narrator should be straightforward: introduce and situate the main character (“Once upon a time there was a panda who lived in a beautiful bamboo grove”), set the dramatic tension in motion (“But the panda had a BIG problem”), and solve the problem—end of story. But what happens when the protagonist refuses to play along? “Looks like you’re the one with the problem, buddy,” says Panda, who won’t offer up so much as a sore paw to drive the narrative forward. The bear soon wrests control of the meta-comedy (“Maybe YOU are the main character and I am YOUR problem!”) and introduces a jelly bean rain, purple puffball aliens, a second panda, and a trip to Antarctica (“This is fiction. Anything can happen!” a penguin observes). The embattled narrator may start yearning for stories that are about “nice, quiet rocks,” but readers will gleefully embrace the anarchy that Underwood’s (Interstellar Cinderella) supremely silly repartee has unleashed. Marks, making her U.S. picture book debut, is an able accomplice, offering tightly composed and choreographed cartooning that feels appropriately chaotic. Ages 3–7. Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. [em]Illustrator’s agency: Astound US Agency. (Apr.) [/em]