A LITTLE LIBRARY - Getting 'Stuck' has never been more fun


Perhaps it's because I work on a college campus, but I find myself getting a little antsy in March.

Whitman's spring break will be underway by the publication of this article, and the vacationing spirit spills into the bookstore as well. Let's eat our lunches outside in the sunshine! Let's close early! Even my book selection seems to reflect this winter's-aend restlessness.

While last month's "Henry's Heart" was gently educational, this month's pick is impractical, silly, even outrageous. Many of the picture books we've looked at so far use thoughtful text and beautiful illustrations to try to impart subtle lessons about family, nature, culture or friendship. This month's pick, as far as I can tell, is told just "for the fun of it."

"Stuck," by Oliver Jeffers (Penguin, 2011), tells the tale of young Floyd, whose kite gets caught in a tree. In order to knock it loose, he throws something else into the tree ... which also gets stuck.

He keeps throwing larger and more impossible items up with the hope of shaking some of this stuff loose, but of course, everything ends up stuck. It's a bit of a "House that Jack Built" sequence, or maybe an "Old Woman who Swallowed a Fly" scenario, though much less grotesque. Each item is bigger and crazier than the one before.

I enjoy "Stuck" precisely for this random and outrageous plot line, for the items that don't make any logical sense and for the questions that go unasked and unanswered. Questions like, "How in the world can Floyd lift an entire house off its foundation?" You can watch the craziness happen as Oliver Jeffers reads "Stuck" aloud here at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hipx6HJs4XQ.

If I were to take issue with one element of "Stuck," it would be with Jeffers' rather informal artistic process. On the copyright page he writes that the art for this book was made "by composing various scribbles and blotches of paint, made on small pieces of paper, all together inside my computer. This is because I needed to move studios in the middle of making the art, and using this approach seemed like a good idea."

Jeffers' talent is evident and his original ideas can be seen in his other picture books: "The Great Paper Caper" and "The Incredible Book Eating Boy." Still, I couldn't quite shake the fact that Jeffers would admit to this rather haphazard approach to composition.

I thought of Charise Mericle Harper, who spent two years working with schoolchildren to perfect "Henry's Heart." Bill Thomson, the author of "Chalk," also came to mind. As a professor of illustration, he seems to have considered every page as a director considers camera angles, and his drawings are technically skillful and practiced.

In shocking contrast, Jeffers freely volunteers that "Stuck" was assembled using stray doodles and scraps. In that way, "Stuck" strikes me as the sort of project one turns in just before leaving for spring break. It's good, but it may not be one's best effort.

In spite of these misgivings, "Stuck" is wildly enjoyable. Many of these so-called "scribbles and blotches" are clever and endearing. Jeffers plays with perspective and expression in his comic-style drawings. As readers, we suspend our disbelief because the entire plot is so impossible. My skepticism gave way to laughter in the course of the story. Humor and silliness abounds in "Stuck," making it a very fun read.

I suspected that "Stuck" was going to be one-of-a-kind from the first page, when Jeffers' dedication warmed my heart: "For someone nice."

"Stuck" is pure whimsy, and Jeffers tells this tale with childlike imagination. For a few minutes of spring break, try reading "Stuck." And hang in there - spring is just around the corner.

Zoey Smith works at the Whitman College Bookstore and is helping expand the children's book section. She can be reached at smithze@whitman.edu.


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