I don't usually review picture books, but, if you read my post on The Best Picture Books of 2008 you know that, in addition to my four year old, I read to kids for story time twice a week at the bookstore where I work and I increasingly find that there are fewer and fewer books I care to read out loud to my audience (and son) and even fewer I care to actually purchase. When a great new book (or an old one that is new to me) comes a long, which won't be often based on the past year, I will make a point of sharing it with you.
Let's Do Nothing, is the first picture book from Tony Fucile, a long time animator with more credits to his name than I can list. Most recently, Fucile helped create and build the characters and helped supervise animation on Brad Bird's masterpiece, The Incredibiles. Although, in an author interview on the publisher's site, Candlewick Press, he laments the phasing out of the hand-drawn form of animating movies. He also has some interesting insight into what it takes to create a picture book and how it is similar to and different from making a movie. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that Fucile's illustration style is very animated and has a movie-like feel and pacing, all of which work in perfect tandem to bring his characters and their story to life.
Let's Do Nothing strikes so many chords for me and on so many levels, to mix metaphors horribly. Frankie and Sal are two friends who have exhausted all possible activities and have nothing left to do, which is when Sal gets the brilliant idea to DO NOTHING. Of course, doing nothing, truly doing nothing, proves much more difficult than the boys could have ever imagined. Any one who has ever tried the method of meditation that requires you to "empty your mind" and think of nothing, and anyone who has ever heard the accompanying phrase "monkey mind" will appreciate immediately the situation Sal and Frankie have put themselves in. Sal tries giving Frankie some tools to help him do nothing and suggests images of inanimate objects to concentrate on. From being statues in a park to trees in a forest to the Empire State Building, every image leads to a thought and eventually action on Frankie's part. Pigeons land on him when he's a statue and he has to wave them away. A dog relieves himself on Frankie when he is imagining himself as a tree in a forest. King Kong makes an appearance as well...
No matter what the boys try, they cannot do nothing, which in the end leads them to something! Kid's will get the "do nothing" idea that Frankie and Sal wrestle with right away. I am sure that most kids, at some point in their lives, have had a parent or other adult cunningly suggest they play the "Say Nothing" game, which requires absolute silence to win, and is definitely akin to doing nothing. Also, any kid who has ever bemoaned the fact that there is "nothing to do" will connect with Frankie and Sal as well. Really, Tony Fucile has tapped into an aspect of childhood and adulthood in a sharp and amusing way that should ensure his book shelf space at bookstores and libraries for years to come. Tony Fucile's Let's Do Nothing reminds me of another great children's book author an illustrator with a background in cartoons, if not exactly illustration, the amazing Jules Feiffer, creator of a picture book that should be on every child's shelf, the suspensefully hilarious Bark George. In fact, Fucile mentions that he had a picture book idea rolling around in his head but abandoned it when his wife showed him a review of Jules Feiffer's Daddy Mountian. Despite having to give up his idea because of similarities, Fucile felt energized by the coincidence. He said, "I thought to myself, Wow, the great Jules Feiffer thought this idea was worth making a book out of. Maybe I have a chance here!"
This book got big laughs from my four year old as well as the crowd at story time. Let's Do Nothing is also a great partner for Marla Frazee's Caldecott Honor Winner, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, a story about two boys who, among other things, would rather "do nothing," than take part in the raft of activities organized for them.
And, finally, for all you picture book aficionados, I have to print in full Tony's response to the question, "What artists, writers and/or experiences have most influenced your work?" because he starts off his list of heroes with one of my all-time favorites (and former story editor for Disney during their hand-animated heyday) Bill Peet. Peet is featured along with William Steig, another favorite of Fucile's, in my post from 9/15/08, The Importance of Picture Books. Like Jules Feiffer, Steig began his career and continued to work as a cartoonist for adults (his work often appeared in the New Yorker magazine) even after he experienced success writing for children.
Here is Tony's response regarding his influences:
I'll always be somewhat a product of my experience as an animator. My drawing style is very much influenced by some of my favorite animators. Many of my heroes from the golden age of the art form made the transition to picture books: Bill Peet, Mary Blair, JP Miller, the Procensens. I love Marc Simont, Dr Seuss, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Roger Duvoisin, Robert McCloskey, Richard Scarry, Jules Feiffer, Charles Schulz, NC Wyeth, Ronald Searle, Hank Ketchum. I can go on and on. many current artists and writers inspire me as well. I should mention one book that cast a spell over me: Dmitri the Astronaut by Jon Agee. Like Where the Wild Things Are, this is a book that I can endlessly chew on, like a dog with a bone. I love the appearance of something that at first glance feels breezy and spontaneous but at further inspection reveals tremendous complexity. I love it. I think that books as much as anything inspired me to create one myself.