Sunday, September 5, 2010


By Lane Smith

(Roaring Book Press, 2010)

When I was growing up, there were years when books did not fall into my lap unless they were required reading. A book could not compete with TV, radio, soccer, hockey or the swimming pool. As much as we think things have changed, they are the same. There is a new generation of boys (and girls) who may look at a book as an alien device, something from a remote planet or, in today's context, from an ancient civilization.

Lane Smith's new picture book, It's a Book, is about exactly what the title states. With a monkey, a mouse and a jackass as the only characters, the donkey is the one who seems perplexed about the purpose of a book. Donkey is plugged in, a tech savvy creature who doesn't know what to do with something that lacks all the modern bells and whistles. "How do you scroll down?"

Monkey explains, "I don't. I turn the page. It's a book." The conversation doesn't evolve much from there. Donkey continues to ask about the handy features associated with computers while Monkey repeatedly states the title of the book. (Mouse hangs around for one obvious tech joke and to deliver the final punchline.)

We can laugh at the donkey who seems so out of his comfort zone in acquainting himself with a book. (Obviously, many of us would also relate to flipping things around to become a quizzical exploration of the function of a laptop.) Ultimately, author-illustrator Lane Smith uses humor to celebrate the continued value of books.

It's ironic that I first found out about It's a Book through a YouTube clip. (I wonder if the book is available for download as an eBook. Seems logical, but also goes against the underlying message in valuing the simplicity and intimacy that come with holding and reading an actual book.)

Adults and children will LOL when reading this—or at least it will elicit a :). I find it funny enough in referring to the tech-minded animal as a donkey. I'm not sure that jackass was necessary. But, in a world of farting dogs, Captain Underpants and endless jokes about Uranus, jackass will make the book's ending all the more appealing in a subversive way. Although I'd love to read the book aloud to students, as a principal at a new school, I'll have to go with donkey. Of course, I wouldn't stop students from later picking up the book and reading it on their own. My own word substitution can remain our little secret. Wink, wink. Sometimes that's all it takes to remind kids that reading books has its own rewards.

But what do others think? Am I being a fuddy-duddy for substituting donkey for jackass? (To clarify, Smith uses the word to refer to the animal and its human counterpart.) Am I wrongly applying a form of censorship or simply showing prudence in presenting a book in a public school setting? Would you read it as is if you were a classroom teacher? Would you read it as is if you shared it with your own child? Post a comment to offer your perspective.

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