OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) is the latest picture book from Mac Barnett, with amazing art work by the incomprable Dan Santat. As with all of Mac Barnett's books (thus far...) there is a story behind the story. With his first picture book, written fresh out of college, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, Barnett, who really knows his kid's books, was interested in taking the "theme of Nice Kid Gets a Giant Pet [which] has a venerable history" and taking a look at the consequences that come with owning an enormous pet, which is rarely done in this particular genre. As he said in his interview at 7 Impossible Things last year, "I thought, surely there’s a different story to be told here. And so came Billy’s ordeal, a nonstop parade of inconveniences and awkward social situations. This whale doesn’t talk. It doesn’t have a name. It’s not even mobile. This is not a fun pet. Even the ending, which leaves Billy feeling better, is not really a depiction of unalloyed happiness."
And, as Barnett shares in an interview this month with Betsy Bird at School Library Journal, "I wanted to write about a very particular kind of regret that only children can feel: a regret that is sincere but also usually less acute than the situation warrants. I'm thinking particularly of an episode at 826LA, a nonprofit writing center I used to run. I walked into the bathroom to find a kid who'd flushed many paper towels down a toilet and wrecked a 100-year-old plumbing system. He was standing in an inch of (thankfully clean) water, and he smiled sheepishly, apologized, and went back to the writing lab to finish his homework. It was a small step from that bathroom to ruined major metropolitan area, from the scatological the eschatological." I love this back story and the feeling that Barnett evokes in OH NO!, a deceptively simple story. (Read the whole interview for another really great story about what first inspired Mac to think about writing kid's books and how he got his foot in the door and which famous children's book author's kid he went to college with...)
But, really, I shouldn't write too much about this book. Barnett's inspiration and text are amazing, it is clear from reading his other books (and interviews with Adam Rex) he approaches creating picture book as a collaborative effort and, fortunately for us, he collaborates with some amazing artists who are also authors themselves. So, let me rave for a minute about the work of Dan Santat and what a spectacular book OH NO! is, from cover to cover, inside and out.
But first check out this hilarious video that Dan made (starring himself) to go with the book....
Disney Hyperion has pulled out all the stops to make this unique book even more special. The dust jacket is two sided, the interior revealing a fake movie poster for the book, which, it goes without saying, was inspired by certain movies of old. In fact, Dan has recently made OH NO! shirts with this very picture on them that can be purchased at zazzle.com with all proceeds going to support 826LA, the Los Angeles branch of a non-profit writing and tutoring center, 826 National, which now has seven locations all over America. The book itself is printed to look exactly like a well-used computation book, complete with coffee (or tea) rings on it! The endpapers reveal the heroine's blueprints for her robot, among other things, and have some brilliant diagrams and depictions of DNA chemical structure and copious notes.
The interior pages make you feel like you have jumped into a (badly dubbed) science fiction movie with translations for words from English to Japanese scrolling across the bottom of the page like a newsfeed. As the book opens, we see an anxious little girl with a serious grimace on her face. She walks through the streets of a decimated city muttering, "Oh no... Oh man... I knew it... I never should have built a robot for the science fair." From there, she grumbles on about the mistakes she made by giving her robot a "suer claw," "laser eye" and "the power to control dogs' minds." This sets Santat up for some brilliantly hilarious illustrations of dogs trying to be robots, with the requisite tinfoil helmet and cardboard box bodies. How does our scientist-hero stop her creation? With another experiment (gone wrong) of course! You will just have to read this spectacular book to find out what she comes up with!
After reading OH NO! before bed one night - my husband, myself, three kids (which includes two teenagers) and a big dog, were all cracking up. Besides being an all-around great book, one that prompted a weekend Godzilla movie marathon, Dan Santat pays homage to a comedian and one of his very, very funny bits about procrastinating on a science fair project that my husband and kids happened to be familiar with.
Brian Regan is a very funny, clean comedian and I just happened to find an animated clip of "Cup of Dirt" to share with you!