cover image The Happiest Book Ever

The Happiest Book Ever

Bob Shea. Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4847-3045-4

Happiness can be a cudgel: that’s the gist of this funny, original, and astute meta-story. The narrator is a relentlessly cheerful face who personifies the book itself and conscripts readers into helping create the “Happiest Book Ever.” The one obstacle is lumpy, unexpressive Frog, the only photographic image in the book. As the increasingly agitated face adds more and more digitally drawn whimsy to the pages (“Sunspot naptime kittens!” “A whale with good news!”) Frog’s imperturbability becomes an affront—an amphibian Bartleby the Scrivener. Ugly with rage, the face expunges Frog from the page, leaving a glaring white silhouette with an eerie, crime-scene vibe. None of the happy inhabitants is pleased about this turn of events (even the kittens are offended), and the disembodied face proves capable of growth: “Being mean is not happy.... Frog was just being frog.” A heartfelt apology brings Frog back, and Shea (the Ballet Cat series) leaves readers feeling a little better about protecting their individuality—and perhaps less inclined to steamroll others in the future. Ages 6–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Oct.)