Marla Frazee's A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
The words of Marla Frazee's 2009 Caldecott Honor book tell a different story than the pictures (and the word balloons).
it's that playful, ironic tug between the two that makes this a picture
book for the ages, one that demonstrates timeless truths joyously.
The narrator's voice is an adult one, offering a rational, grown-up spin on events that in reality are driven by a couple of boys being silly.
That narrator tells the story of the two friends, James and Eamon, staying with Eamon's grandparents (Bill and Pam) so that they can attend a week-long nature camp.
Nature camp, please note, is Bill's idea.
A lover of the natural world, Bill wants nothing more than to share that love with the two boys. Nature camp is one part of the gift. Taking the boys to the penguin exhibit at the natural history museum is the other.
Here's the response he gets:
The next line from the narrator is, "They decided to stay home and enjoy Bill and Pam's company." The image that follows is the boys dashing off to play, with no regard for Bill and Pam.
Get it? Narration one thing, pictures and dialogue another. Author-illustrator Frazee is teaching your young ones irony and humor. This simple book is actually doing something rather sophisticated!
The boys win, but in the end, the grownups, who allow them to win, win themselves by ceding control. Kids will be kids, so why get in the way?
In fact, you could say this is a book about a win-win. Bill and Pam model some very instructive win-win parenting (or grandparenting).
Like a terrific Disney movie, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever is loaded with separate treats for both the kid audience and the adult audience to enjoy, separate characters to identify with.
Grandpa Bill is our character. Let me tell you about Bill's moment. It comes at the end.
Grown-up readers will easily intuit that this has been a rough week for Bill. His hopes of turning the kids on to nature are repeatedly dashed.
Does he sulk? Not outwardly. Like Grandma Pam, he takes a deep breath, absorbs the unintended insults and rebuffs, and goes about the business of creating space for the boys to enjoy themselves, as his ponderings on penguins and the Antarctic fall upon deaf ears.
But then, on the last night of the visit, the boys grow bored "for the first time all week."
They think. They ponder. They come up with something to do.
They work on it. Hard. But author Frazee wisely doesn't show us what it is until it's revealed to Bill and Pam.
The boys create a living model of Antarctica. Complete with penguins. And while kid readers will be noting the details and the joy of the boys...
Your eyes will go to Bill, as he realizes his input did sink in. You'll feel that hug he gives the boys for what they just unknowingly gave him.
Like an idyllic childhood, this entire book is for the kids to enjoy, with some notably wonderful moments for parents as well, as a reward for putting the kids' needs first.
Author-Illustrator Frazee tells us that this book is based on "real people and real events," and it's easy to believe. The moments are small, but there's nothing small about the rewards. The inside covers capture these small moments in simulated photographs, the molecules, as it were, of a week fondly remembered.
Buy A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever for children who feel loved and the parents who make that happen.
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