Sometimes a picture book gets it just right. And by “it,” I mean clever concept, smart execution and all-around child-friendly vibe.
It’s rare for one of those picture books to have been written by a so-called celebrity author—someone who made a name for him or herself in Hollywood and then decided to write children’s books—but Michael Ian Black has proven to be the exception to the rule. The handful of picture books he’s released since 2009 have been entertaining, and he’s been paired with some top-notch illustrators.
Check out Seven Impossible Things on 'Because Amelia Smiled.'
His latest picture book, I’m Bored, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, is another winner. This book is so funny that when I first read it to a group of children, one reading wasn’t enough and we immediately launched into a repeat experience of the story.
Even if you don’t have children of your own, if you’ve ever been around a child for more than a day or two, you know the great frustration that is the I’m-bored whine. I’ve seen adults—and remember my own mother—responding with statements, such as: “You are SURROUNDED by toys [or books or art supplies or LEGOs].” How about: “Just use your imagination.” Or, simply, “GO OUTSIDE!”
Yet I always noted how such responses rarely worked. It pretty much never results in the child saying, “By God, you’re right! I’m going to go re-discover my toy chest!” And yet the same words have come out of my own mouth, now that I’m a mother.
To be clear, this is, as they say, a first-world problem, the contemporary suburban child’s occasional ennui. But it rears its ugly head a lot.
Well, next time it happens, just hand them Black and Ohi’s book.
What Black has done is turned the tables, taking the I’m-bored refrain and essentially asking child readers to respond to the ridiculousness of the very notion. It all involves one very funny, deadpan potato, of all things, and it’s great fun for the child reader.
The protagonist, a bright young girl, gets right to the point on page one: “I’m bored. Bored. Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. I’m so BORED.” She’s given ample white space on bare backgrounds, which accentuate her dilemma and simultaneously allow her to be the star of the show. (To match the book’s opening tone, the cover doesn’t even list the author and illustrator. Clever choice, as there can’t be ANYthing to engage this girl.)
That is, until she meets a potato. If you think this is an unlikely, possibly even absurd, notion—that she happens to pass by a potato in her path—you’d be right. But therein lies the humor. And children will just run with this.
For a moment, she’s a bit excited at the occurrence of something new and unexpected, but before you can say “spud,” she’s throwing it in the air, saying, “What am I supposed to do with a potato?!!” Valid question, indeed. That’s when the potato lands on her head, falls to the ground and becomes a personified potato that talks, declaring, “I’m bored.”
Immediately, the girl is engaged, inviting the potato to play. Alas, he has the same ennui: He likes flamingos (more delicious absurdity) yet none are around. When he goes so far as to say that kids are boring, hinting that his situation isn’t likely to improve, the girl—with a disgruntled brow—goes out of her way to prove precisely how kids are fun.
Thus begins six glorious spreads of the girl using her creativity, moving her body, “think[ing] all these amazing thoughts,” and demonstrating the abundant imaginative powers of a child’s mind. It’s here that Ohi fills in the white spaces with light blue sketches representing what the girl sees in her mind, and more color is introduced. Ohi is wonderful at conveying facial expressions with the simplest of shapes, as well as gesturing.
It’s an action-packed tale with an endearing protagonist—grumbles of discontent and all. Best of all, it’s topped off with a truly funny ending.
Inspiring and stimulating, it’s a must-see picture book, particularly if you’re a teacher or librarian looking for good story-time reads. You’re almost guaranteed laughs with this one.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
I’M BORED. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Ian Black. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Published by Simon & Schuster, New York. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher.