1.07.2015

The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak


A longtime fan of The Office (both versions), I was very excited when I discovered that B. J. Novak, writer, actor and executive producer of the show, wrote a book of short stories, One More Thing. And I bought it and it is very good, just as I anticipated. I was very surprised when I learned that B.J. Novak had written a picture book. I am prepared to gape in awe and wonder when someone  writes a whole book that is good (as Amy Poehler so honestly states in her book, YES PLEASE, the act of writing is "hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.") That said, I am always prepared to be underwhelmed and even infuriated when anyone, regardless of their other writing credentials, writes a picture book. Writing a truly good picture book is REALLY HARD. The Book With No Pictures neither underwhelmed nor infuriated me. It impressed me. And it tickled me. And I read it out loud about 25 times in one week to every single student who visited the library. And I never grew tired of reading The Book With No Pictures out loud. I loved changing up my voices and anticipating where the laughs would come, depending on what grade level I was reading the book to. Since I (finally) slapped a barcode on The Book With No Pictures and set it free into the world of my students, it has not sat on the shelf for more than the length of time it takes to read the book and has a long list of hold requests.


Like the brilliant Press Here by the creatively clever Hervé Tullet, The Book With No Pictures is radically different from anything that has come before, which is, in part, why kids love it. And, like Press Here,  The Book With No Pictures is an interactive book. Where Press Here has the reader shaking, tapping and blowing on the book, Novak's book has the reader saying ridiculous things because, as the text knowingly tells listeners, "Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say." In fact, there is even a warning on the back jacket of the book ominously promising that you "will end up saying SILLY THINGS" if a kid (who is probably playing a trick on you) gets you to read this book.


Novak begins The Book With No Pictures with these words, "This is a book with no pictures. It might seem like no fun to have someone read you a book with no pictures. It probably seems boring and serious." After that set up, comes the above page. I think you can guess how the rest of the book goes, and if you are not entirely sure, definitely watch the clip below of Novak reading his book out loud to a room full of kids. Watch it anyway. He is VERY good at reading this book out loud. Then go buy it for your kids.








Here is a pretty great (despite the lame intro) interview with Novak where he discusses the genesis of The Book With No Pictures and it's pretty much exactly how I would have wished the book to be conceived. Novak wanted to make kids laugh, and an interaction with a friend's two-year-old who wanted to be read a book got his wheels turning. Even better, and something I don't think a lot of picture book authors actually do, Novak created a dummy of the book and READ IT TO A CHILD. Then he went back and edited it. Just in case you choose not to click through, here is an excerpt:


CNN: What made you decide to write a children's book?
The laughter of children is the most powerful drug of all.
B.J. Novak
Novak: If you've ever been a comedian, you have this addiction to laughter. The laughter of children is the most powerful drug of all. If you get hooked on that, you're really in trouble. While I was waiting for "One More Thing" to come out, I would hang out with friends who had kids.
At one point, my best friend's son, Bruce, who was 2 years old at the time, toddled up to me, holding a book out. And something in my brain asked: "What is his dream? What are the dream words in this book?? He doesn't know what's in this book unless he's read it before. He has the power to decide what the adult says.
He's basically a little Harvey Weinstein, producing this experience, and I'm just the actor for hire. He's handing me a script. What is his dream script?
Then my mind just went to: His dream would be that I would have to say all these ridiculous things I didn't want to say. He would feel delighted and be in complete control. That was the first notion for the book. Then when I thought: What would the pictures be? I realized I didn't have any vision for pictures and didn't need pictures. Then the whole vision came together. What if the message and the challenge of the book was: What can you do without pictures? What can you do with the power of words?
CNN: How long did the process take?
Novak: I had the idea and put it in this notebook I carry around filled with hundreds of ideas. One Saturday, or one day when I didn't really have anything to do but wait, I wrote up the whole thing. And I printed it on full-sized paper. And then I went to a stationery store, and I bought an empty book. I'm not a designer by trade, but I did my best.
I chose the font and the size and the spacing. I glue-sticked the cover page on. And I paper clipped the pages in, enough to make a 2-year-old think that it might be a real book. And I did all this all in one day.
And then I took it over to Bruce, and I asked if I could read him this new book. Then I read him the book. He was patient, and he laughed a couple of times, and then he said, 'Now let's read a book with pictures.' Then I went through some editing.
It was six months on and off of design questions. At first I thought, a book with no pictures, great. No cover question, no title question, no design question. Just put the words out there. But in fact I soon realized when there's nothing to look at but letters on a page, and you're trying to make the youngest of kids stare at the page, it's actually very hard, and you have to be very particular.




While I was poking around the interwebs to write this review, I also discovered an interview with B.J. Novak at Hello Giggles conducted by his (fictional, I quickly learned) little sister, Keough Novak. Still a high school student, Keough is quite the snark master. In fact, since 2012, she has had her own Twitter feed written by Novak (and his younger brothers?) and has 21,000 followers. Here is some of Keough/B.J.'s timely humor:




Source: Purchased

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