Bob Shea is a very funny guy. He is also a very funny guy who gets kids. Best of all, he can blend his humor with his grasp of a child's psyche and translate it onto the page in pictures and words, which is not easy. Way back in 2010 I loved and reviewed Dinosaur vs. the Potty when it came out and read it over and over at story time. While I've been keeping up with reading Shea's books, it's been too long since I reviewed one. That said, Shea's new Ballet Cat series is the perfect place to revisit his work!
Besides being a superb expression of Shea's manic, kid-centric humor, the Ballet Cat series is perfectly positioned as a step up for new readers who have conquered Mo Willem's Elephant & Piggie books. In the first book in the series, The Totally Secret Secret, we meet Ballet Cat and her friend Sparkle Pony at the start of a play date. Ballet Cat tells Sparkles to pick what to play. Ballet Cat is happy with everything Sparkle suggests, but also always finds a problem. Crafts are out because you can't leap with scissors. Checkers is out because kicks might knock over the board. And selling lemonade is a no-go because it might spill when they twirl.
In defeat, Sparkle woefully agrees that playing ballet is the only thing left to do. But Ballet Cat notices that something is wrong. After all, a "ballerina can tell these things." She tries to draw it out of Sparkle, but Sparkle says it's a secret. A secret secret. Shea captures Sparkle's anxiety and sadness perfectly and draws it out over a few pages with humor and sensitivity. Finally, despite being convinced that Ballet Cat will not want to be friends anymore once she knows the secret, Sparkle divulges the truth, ending with, "I'm not a pony. I'm a phony." Ballet Cat seems stricken at first, but reveals that she also has a secret secret. Happily, her secret is that she loves Sparkle even more than ballet!
Shea's characters and illustrations are exuberant - and anxious. His illustrations are vibrant and full of movement. The play between Ballet Cat and Sparkle is perfect, maturing past the manic panic of Elephant and the Zen calm of Piggie. I can't wait to see where Ballet Cat's pirouettes take her next!
Coming February, 2016!
Written by Bob Shea & illustrated by Lane Smith:
The fantastic Dinosaur vs. Series:
Also written and illustrated by Bob Shea:
Illustrated by Bob Shea: