"It's about time I put back on my snooty picture book connoisseur hat to get super picky about something that is basically not too bad. Ryan T. Higgins' BE QUIET! is about a mouse that sets out to create/live out a wordless picture book, but is constantly interrupted by two other mice, so that every page ends up having words on it. The drawings are fine. For some, the cartoonish dialogue and repeated breaks in the fourth wall will be laugh-out-loud hilarious, but I found myself yearning for the kind of childlike authenticity and comparative subtlety you can find in someone like Mo Willems. The real crux of this book is the meta, inside baseball concept: a failed attempt at a wordless book that is filled with words. Is that a joke that children can get? If so, did Higgins tell the joke successfully? This is a fun idea that I have not seen before, but unfortunately I feel like that originality was wasted.
Wordless books are great. They do things that books with words can not. They encourage more pictorial observation and more parent-child interaction. They demand some creativity from their readers. Perhaps a generous way to put that is to say that they give us the chance to become storytellers, collaborators, co-owners of a picture book. Kids can read them on their own! But here is the thing: many people do not enjoy them. I know because I have both read plenty of negative reviews for some amazing wordless books on this site and also because I have listened to the misgivings of parents, face to face. People can feel a lot of pressure telling a story on the spot. They do not know what to look at or how to 'read' a picture. They feel some educational element is missing. Whatever the case, for these reasons, not many wordless books are made year per year. They are definitely still pretty novel and it would not surprise me if a child aged out of picture books without reading more than one or two. My point in all this is, Higgins treats the concept and phrase of "wordless picture book" as if it will be immediately understood. Additionally, the way our nebbish protagonist mouse speaks about them is as if they are the highbrow art-films of the picture book world. It feels like adult level humor to me. So not only do I question if children will get it, but I also ask myself why this tone that is a key part of the set-up is completely abandoned for the scattered jabbering that fills the rest of the book.
The book is called BE QUIET! It did not need to be about wordless books. It could have just been about a character that wanted quiet. But because the idea of riffing on a wordless book is there, it is one that should be worked with! There could have been multiple funny ways to throw two or three wordless spreads in here that would have added an extra dimension to the humor of the premise. Maybe after our protagonist has his huge outburst, he storms off, leaving the other two in a (temporary) beautiful wordless narrative. Or maybe our protagonist is a cat and he just eats the mice to shut them up? However you look at it, there are definitely some missed opportunities for creating and breaking wordlessness here.
Even if you look at this from a storytelling perspective, I have issues. The first character we meet, who is on his lonesome for a couple pages, who is arguably our protagonist, sets out to achieve a goal and never even gets close to reaching it. Maybe if the book placed us with the other two lugubrious mice from the start, this bossy intruder with a vision would be more fun to push to the edge. But instead, readers are supposed to delight in his failure because... he's wearing glasses? He uses bigger words like 'onomatopoeia'? Because he takes no joy in the stupid remarks of his fellow rodents? It just is not enough for me. I feel like this is a book that celebrates when kids annoy their older siblings, or worse, their parents.
Anyhow, if you are still reading this unnecessary rant, go ahead and read BE QUIET! It is fine. But just promise me to be on the lookout for another book that might take this concept and use it to more finessed comedic effect." ♔DW♔ said.
" I am really looking forward to sharing this with students- I love this author's humor and artwork. " Amie said.
" Three mice set out to make a "wordless" picture book. Things get pretty messed up. " Margaux said.
" Hands down my favorite one by Higgins. Omg it is so cute and adorable and is the perfect story time to act out, hands down. I cannot wait to do this at a Saturday story time at my Barnes and Noble. You see, I've already put dibs on it. More than that, this one has a story that starts right under the jacket on the hardcover itself! How amazing is that!Love love love this one. " Laura Hook said.
" Rupert is going to star in a wordless book because they are so artistic, but his friends can't stop talking. " Tracie said.
" Another one that might even be a five star (actually, already know the illustrations are!) just have to see how many of the jokes kids actually get. For the adult reading it ... hilarious. " Catherine Hamilton-Genson said.
" Very cute and funny...interactive story " Christopher said.
" Excellent. Somewhat of an "insiders" angle, but should be fun for kids, too. Librarians should love it. " Angela said.