Serious Trouble
by Arthur Howard

Arthur Howard's Serious Trouble

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

There's one very real way in which my parents didn't get me. They didn't understand how important it was to me to be funny.

My cruel gibes at the expense of my younger siblings? Well, yes they were cruel gibes, but they were also elegantly crafted. Mean, yes, but clever too!

As any comedian will tell you, it's not easy being funny. And as any budding comedian's younger sibling will tell you, it's no fun suffering for someone else's art.

Perhaps if Serious Trouble had been on our bookshelf, my parents and I would have had a better idea what was really going on! (And we could have found better targets for my inner Don Rickles.)

Meet Ernest. His father is the king. His mother is the queen. (She reads "Extra Grimm Fairy Tales.")

Ernest doesn't want to be king when he grows up. He wants to be a jester. And he certainly seems cut out for it.

His parents don't understand his impulses, but Ernest is what he is. This is clearly a matter of nature, not nurture. (He shows up for jousting lessons with an umbrella and a stick horse.)

Ernest leaves the castle one day because "he had a couple jokes he wanted to tell. All he needed was an audience." Unfortunately, the audience he finds is the three-headed dragon that's been terrifying the kingdom.

These guys (the heads) have the hearts of hecklers. Ernest tries out his material on them. It goes over like a lead balloon, and not only aren't the dragonheads shy about telling him so, they're going to eat him too.

But like all good comedians, Ernest is willing to aim low when his audience isn't going for his high-brow material. Ernest resorts to physical humor. He tickles the dragon.

It works.

Serious Trouble is a little story, but one that could really strike a chord for children and parents who sometimes feel they weren't cut from the same cloth.

And since, at least once in awhile, nearly every set of parents and kids feels that feeling, Arthur Howard's Serious Trouble is a good book to keep around.

Know that, in the end, Ernest gets the validation he needs. As he relates his dragon tale to his royal parents, they actually smile.

(Ernest didn't have to wait until he was 40, like I did, when, after I gave a humorous toast, my father came up to me and said, "You're funny. I'll bet you could perform." I said, "I do.")

Howard's watercolors capture not only Ernest's joy in entertaining but his inborn resolve to be who he's meant to be. (And what princess-weary parent won't revel in the son of a king who has no interest in going into that particular family business when he grows up? You can tell your daughter there's an opening!)

Serious Trouble reminds parents and children that being yourself and having fun are serious business!

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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