A modest yet richly colorful day in the life of a small panda who may or may not sneeze, which may or may not be calamitous.
“When Chu sneezed, bad things happened,” portends the opening. Chu is an adorable panda kid in a striped T-shirt and aviator hat. Mellow white space surrounds him and his panda parents except when they arrive at the day’s three destinations: the library, a diner and the circus. These settings are sumptuous spreads. Rex’s oil paints showcase lights, darks and textures while populating the scenes with droll-looking animals and fine details to pore over. A circus turtle flies on a trapeze; library mice sit inside old-fashioned card-catalog drawers working on miniscule computers. Due to the library’s “old-book-dust,” Chu’s mother knows to check: “Are you going to sneeze?”—“aah-aaah-Aaaah- / No, said Chu.” That comical buildup and take back spreads across three pages, including a suspenseful page turn. At the circus, readers finally behold the power of a nasal expulsion. The climax is visually realistic yet dreamlike, with a nice, slyly deadpan ending that finds Chu’s family somewhat better off than the rest of their town. The single problem with this book—potentially a deal breaker—is the use of this particular Chinese name for the sake of a sneeze pun.
Weigh great art and clever story against the exploitation of the old, unfortunate cliché that Asian names sound funny. (Picture book. 2-5)