January 23, 2018

Book or Bell?

Written by Chris Barton
Illustrated by Ashley Spires
Bloomsbury
978-1-68119-729-6
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
2017

What reader does not know the agony of having their reading interrupted?

Henry is one such child.  Picking up a book about a bike at his school library, Henry is captivated, taking the book outside for recess, annoyed by the bell that calls them outside and then in. At lunch, when the bell rings again, Henry stays at his desk and continues to read.  This seems to concern his teacher and the principal and even the children in the cafeteria whose actions are disrupted by Henry's absence.  The visiting mayor recommends a louder bell which the school implements the next day.  While everyone is disturbed by the new bell, Henry stays put and continues reading. (What is this book?!) Consequences to his classmates repeat in art class.
From Book or Bell? 
by Chris Barton 
illus. by Ashley Spires
Mayor Wise (yes, that is his name) seeks the governor's suggestion which is a louder bell ("...the percussion-bomb bell was replaced by an avalanche-inducing contraption flown in from the Alps.") Still Henry continues to read, amidst the shambles of a classroom in which birds flit around the boy and letters are propelled from the page.  Yet again, class goes awry and the senator recommends, you guessed it, something even louder.  It's not until a simpler solution that feeds Henry's interest is undertaken, courtesy of Henry's teacher, that everyone can enjoy the day to its fullest.

American author Chris Barton's story is clearly a satire of those in authority suggesting outrageous schemes that are ineffective.  From Mayor Wise to Governor Bright and Senator Brilliant, the cast of administrators is wholly inept.  It is only Ms. Sabio (Spanish for "wise") who truly has the answer, though her reach is discrete.  Still it is Canadian Ashley Spires's illustrations that charm Book or Bell? from parody to entertainment.  Her children are diverse and inclusive, imbibing the story with tolerance and acceptance amidst the idiotic ideas of those in power.  The chaos of classrooms run amok and clothes launched from the vibrations of loud bells are hysterical.  Ashley Spires never disregards the importance of details: the principal's hairy legs, a bird in a shoe, training wheels flung from a bike, and the frazzled hair of all, including the principal's combover, in reaction to the piercing bell.
From Book or Bell? 
by Chris Barton 
illus. by Ashley Spires
No school should ever make a child choose between book or bell but, if there's ever a concern, Book or Bell? makes it clear that looking to those in authority is not necessarily a wise idea.  Looking inward is much more productive and effective.

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