________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 15. . . .December 15, 2017


Book or Bell?

Chris Barton. Illustrated by Ashley Spires.
New York, NY: Bloomsbury (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2017.
40 pp., hardcover, $22.99.
ISBN 978-1-68119-729-6.

Subject Headings:
Books and reading-Juvenile fiction.
Schools-Juvenile fiction.
Bells-Juvenile fiction.
Humourous stories.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

*** /4



Who would think that a having a boy just wanting to read a book in peace could lead to such extreme consequences?

      The boy is Henry, and the book – a book about a bike that he finds in the school library – is the best book he has ever read. Usually prompt to obey the school bells, after a few interruptions Henry decides to “just stay put” at his desk in the classroom, reading his book.

      As his absence in the cafeteria line causes a mess and the group art project tips over for lack of his contribution, the solution is offered by the mayor who happens to be visiting the school: a louder bell. The first amping up of the signal, “the latest nerve-jangling technology”, doesn’t work, so first the governor and then a senator suggest increasingly louder bells be installed.

      The first replacement:

…clattered like and explosion in a drum factory. The noise made
every curly hair straighten. It made every straight hair stand up.
It made every bald head pucker.

     The second:

…blasted like a ton of air horns getting smashed by a freight train.
The sound blew the ink off every whiteboard, and half the
whiteboards off the walls, and a few walls out of place entirely.

     By the time the “BRONKITYBRONKITYBRONKITY!” of the loudest bell is heard, children and adults are shaking in their shoes, losing items of clothing and fending off flying backpacks.

      Wise classroom teacher Ms. Sabio has another idea. Instead of a louder bell, how about a quieter one, the clarion small “Ding ding” of a bicycle bell? It brings Henry running outside to see (and ride on) a real bike, and it prompts everyone, big and small, to come and enjoy the fresh air.

      Book or Bell? is a funny story with that Munsch-like mounting chaos that young readers giggle over. (It also has a few of what I consider to be Munsch’s same problems with a bumpy cadence that could use a little polishing.) The author is ably assisted by Ashley Spires (the “Binky” books), with watercolours filled with a crowd of lively human figures placed in a lot of white space, emphasizing their movement.

      Recommended for larger picture book collections.


Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.

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