Monday, August 15, 2011


Written by Jennifer LaRue

Illustrated by Edward Koren

(Schwartz & Wade Books, 2010)

Sometimes I buy a children’s book without giving the slightest thought to kids. Sometimes I think the book might be the perfect entertaining/learning experience for me. With a title like How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps, Jennifer LaRue’s book was an irresistible purchase during an exciting hunt at the outstanding Powell’s Books in Portland. Biggest selling point? LaRue was pitching EASY steps for cleaning. Oh, show me the way!

I have a feeling that many boys and girls will be just as intrigued by the title. There are natural cleaners and then there are perennial avoiders, a phenomenon I witness every time I visit a kindergarten class and the teacher announces that Center Time is over.

The book opens with the girl in 10 Easy Steps showing us her tidy room. I don’t like her. Truth be told, I’m envious. The girl asserts that she will show us wayward folks how to clean our rooms, too. “The first thing we need is a messy room. The messier, the better.”

Okay, got that. Does that count as a step?

Alas, it does not.

But, lo and behold I have mastered the first step: “Always wait until your mother hollers, ‘GET UP THERE AND CLEAN YOUR ROOM—NOW!’ using all three of your names.” Changed my mind. I like you, Ann Erica Kelly.

Yes, LaRue’s text is most definitely relatable. This is a cheeky account of cleaning and all the distractions that arise during the agonizing, tedious process. After advising the reader to dump EVERYTHING in the middle of the room, young Ann advises that you “plunk yourself down, pick a doll out of the pile, and braid her hair until someone comes up to scream at you again.” We’ve all been there, haven’t we? If not a doll having a bad hair day, then there’s a torn hockey card that needs urgent repairs or a dead beetle that needs a suitable eulogy—and a name (Ringo? Eleanor Rigby?) Perhaps a Google search on bug genders is also warranted.
Yes, LaRue knows how futile it is to tame a mess. Long forgotten toys are suddenly indispensable. The closet transforms into a booby trap.

Ann is a model in cleverness. As she brainstorms new ways to organize her bookshelves, she takes a breather and opens up a favorite. “If your mother gets mad at you for dawdling, act surprised and say, ‘But I though you like it when I read.’” Okay, I don’t just like you; you’re my hero!

I have a feeling Ann Kelly will grow up to be a fine elementary teacher. These adults hold onto everything: egg cartons, milk jugs, toilet paper all can be repurposed! Methinks these teachers should cut their packrat protégés some slack.

Edward Koren’s illustrations bear a remarkable resemblance to the work of Mercer Mayer. The art itself appears busy, cluttered. It is not as striking as some of the fine drawings in many of today’s picture books, but the style fits the book’s subject matter.

The fastidiously clean folks of the world will hate this book. Humor? Where?! This book is DANGEROUSLY subversive. The rest of us will embrace it, taking comfort in knowing that Martha Stewart was once a criminal.

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