Tots to Teens & in beTween - It's a controversy AND It's a Book by Lane Smith

Title: It's a Book
Author: Lane Smith
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Publication Date: August 3, 2010
Format: Hardback, 32 pages
Genre: Humor, social commentary, picture book, children's book(?)

How I Got It: I purchased it

Goodreads Summary:
Playful and lighthearted with a subversive twist that is signature Lane SmithIt's a Book is a delightful manifesto on behalf of print in the digital age. This satisfying, perfectly executed picture book has something to say to readers of all stripes and all ages.

Monkey is happily enjoying his book when his friend Jackass, laptop in tow, asks him what he has.  Our little technophile is a bit confused about this whole book thing - it doesn't blog, make sounds, scroll, plug in or even need to be charged.  Monkey is irritated by the constant interruptions and doubly irritated by the fact that simply stating "It's a book" isn't a sufficient explanation.

Jackass takes a look at the book and decides that there are too many words and quickly translates 43 words from the classic Treasure Island into two screen names, some texting shorthand, and two smilies.  (Monkey is not amused.)  Eventually he gets into the book and won't give it back.  As Monkey leaves to go to the library Jackass assures him that he'll charge the book when he's done.

It's a book, Jackass.
I was quite happy to see It's a Book at the local bookstore last weekend.  I purchased it knowing that it was a book about a donkey who didn't know how to use a book.  I happily sat down to read it once I got home and noticed The Word on the title page, enjoyed the book throuroghly, and then saw The Word again on the last page, giving the ending a "devilish"* twist.  "Hrm," I thought, "there are going to be some people outraged over this one."  The Word is the technical term for a male donkey - jackass.  I figure with my own child I can read the story and leave the word out entirely until he's old enough to understand the humor.  I later stumbled across this article in a Massachusetts newspaper regarding the controversy over the outrageousness of a children's book using the word jackass.  And the comments for the article, holy moly, people got mean!

I completely understand how some families consider the word "jackass" off limits and others who don't.  In many countries the word isn't seen as a "bad" word at all.  In Australia, it's not really a problem, but start talking about fanny packs and some Australians might pass out from shock.  Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid uses the word "bloody" frequently, just to give a bit more Britishness to one of the characters.  I didn't have a problem with the word because it means nothing to me, but some of my really laid back British parents told me it was a very inappropriate word for an elementary library book.  Basically words and their import change from culture to culture and meaning can be lost in translation.  I thought that the word "jackass" made the book seem slightly mean spirited at the end, but I generally didn't have a problem with it.  I do have a problem with people insulting other families and dragging their children into the argument (see the afore mentioned comments in the article above).  We're all just trying to raise our kids the best we can and try to ensure that they grow up to be healthy and happy; parental choices differ as do their book purchases.  You will not ruin your child by reading them this book, they may yell out "jackass" at inappropriate times, but other parents will understand.  And hey, it's a teaching moment - just because somebody doesn't understand what something is doesn't mean you can make fun of them.

I think the humor is going to be a bit more advanced for the normal picture book audience.  It would make a great gift for high school students or adults (my husband loved it because my Kindle is surgically attached to my hand and he's an IT teacher).  It's a Book also raises the point that just like not all movies are appropriate for kids of a certain age, neither are all picture books.  Just because the book has illustrations doesn't mean it's for kids.  And quite possibly, it was a rather brave choice on the part of Smith and Roaring Book Press - think of how many books they would have sold if they hadn't used "jackass" but "donkey" instead.

On the illustration side of the review - loved the art, layout, and even font choice!  Simple, expressive, and colorful illustrations with a very clean layout.  I love that Jackass speaks in a sans serif texting-type font while Monkey's words are all in a more warm and literary serif font.  On the whole It's a Book is a very clever tongue-in-cheek read.

* as described by Publisher's Weekly's George Slowik, Jr.

There are two basic arguments regarding It's a Book:

  • If you buy this book for your children you're a bad parent and your kids will be the scourge of society by growing up to be bank robbing druggies.
  • If you don't buy this book for your children you're a bad parent and your kids will rebel against your totalitarian rule by becoming bank robbing druggies.

In reality, it's a fun book, but parents and gift givers might want to consider the recipient before purchasing.  While I liked it and found it both timely and amusing, it's not a book I'll read over and over so I give it 3 stars - this is a good one to pick up from the library.
Related Links and Reviews:
Library School Journal article on use of the word "jackass"
MotherReader discusses word choice in a brief post
100 Scope Notes had a nice post
A Life Bound By Books review
The Little Bookworm review


Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

That book is hilarious! I might give it to my high school and college (possibly older junior high) nieces and nephews because they would also find it funny, but the word "jackass" would prevent me from buying it for kids younger than that. I know it means donkey, but I have never heard it actually used in that context...have heard it many times used as an insult. I wonder if they actually end up selling more copies because the used the word jackass.

June 15, 2011 at 12:40 PM
The Pen and Ink Blog said...

I loved this book. In one B&N, I found it in the adult humor section. I think it's more for older readers - not because of the word jackass- but because it's humor is aimed older.

June 15, 2011 at 2:01 PM
Jennifer (An Abundance of Books) said...

@ Lisa - That's an interesting thought, does the use of a "bad" word in a children's book make it sell more because it's seen as subversive? Even if he had used "donkey" I think the bool's humor would not be fully grasped by a younger audience. I also think that by using "jackass" the book is not as much a children's book when dealing with an American audience.

@ Pen & Ink - I totally agree, adult humor section is a good place for this one because of topic more than language.

June 16, 2011 at 8:12 AM
Elaine said...

I must ask who? -- WHO wouldn't feel simply happier after reading this It is charming!

September 22, 2011 at 4:44 PM
Jennifer (An Abundance of Books) said...

@ Elaine - Check out the comments in the article I linked to above. I was surprised with the anger towards this book, all because of one word.

September 23, 2011 at 12:03 AM

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