School is back in session where I live, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those fabulous teachers and librarians who model and share a love of reading with their students. One of my favorite librarians, who does exactly that, is a fictional one. Her name is Miss Brooks, and she’s back in a picture book sequel, Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome!), illustrated by Michael Emberley.
Over at my own site in 2010, I sang the praises of the book that came before this one, Miss Brooks Love Books! (and I don’t). It was one of my favorite 2010 picture books, filled with memorable characters and very funny deadpan humor. It tells the story of Missy, one stubborn girl who is determined that she’ll never love reading—that is, till she crosses paths with one equally tenacious and story-crazy school librarian, Miss Brooks. The book’s heart and spunk are ultimately the most triumphant things about it—no one character is a cliché, and they leap off the page in all their wonderful quirks. And there’s a moment where Miss Brooks does a celebratory fist pump when Missy finally lands on a book near and dear to her weirdo heart (that “weirdo” is a compliment from me, since normal people worry me): William Steig’s Shrek. Here’s what I wrote at my site back in 2010 about this moment:
That fist pump the librarian is doing in the air when the girl stands up there to yawp barbarically about Shrek! MAKES ME CRY. Oh yes, it makes me tear up every time I see it. And that’s because Miss Brooks has scored. She has landed an epic win in the way we librarians want to with child readers: She found that book that won her heart. And, in this day and age of reading programs and reading for trinket-type incentives (translated: pencils and McDonald’s coupons), it’s extra fabulous to see an adult like that who simply models a love of reading and makes reading itself—and the kickin’ stories that come from these books—the reward.
It’s true. It’s a beautiful moment. And if you haven’t read this book, make sure you remedy that and grab a copy as soon as you possibly can.
In the brand-new book—did I mention I’m so happy to see Miss Brooks again?—Missy is eager to get to school, since Miss Brooks has Story Nook every morning, and she hates to miss it. A storm knocks out the lights once Story Nook begins, but never fear: “Good readers make wonderful storytellers,” says Miss Brooks. So, some good old-fashioned storytelling in the round (and the dark) commences. Along the way, Missy learns a lot about constructing a story, yet Bottner knows enough to avoid turning the plot into some vehicle for didacticism. In other words, readers do actually learn that some stories begin with a good character and some with a problem that needs to be solved, but learning that is secondary to the entertaining story here. Anything working the other way around would be too heavy-handed. Oh, and bonus: Missy uses her original story to deal creatively with Billy Toomey, an angry kid who makes her life hard at school. (I hope we get a third Miss Brooks book so that we can learn more about this complex guy.)
Both of these books from Bottner are well-crafted, leaving lots of room for the illustrator to mold a world, and it’s a wonder to see Emberley take off and do that so expressively in each book. He brings each character to vivid life, everything set in a sea of uncluttered, white space—and he’s got every kid in the class covered, from Violet, who loves ghosts more than anything, to Wilbur, who loves aliens in spaceships. Miss Brooks is one of a kind in every way, and the story teems with action and energy and cheer.
It’s a world young readers will want to return to time and again—with a cast of characters they’ll enjoy re-visiting. Thank goodness for this sequel so that we can have some more story time with the beloved Miss Brooks.
MISS BROOKS' STORY NOOK (WHERE TALES ARE TOLD AND OGRES ARE WELCOME!). Text copyright © 2014 by Barbara Bottner. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Michael Emberley. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts 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.