- Craig Graziano
Billy Twitters is your average, run-of-the-mill elementary school-age kid. Sometimes he doesn’t clean his room; sometimes he doesn’t brush his teeth and at times such as these his parents threaten him with punishment of the most unusual sort. “Billy, finish your baked peas…or we’re buying you a blue whale.”
The boy thinks his parents are bluffing. A blue whale? Impossible! It wouldn't fit in the house! But one should never underestimate the power of mom and dad. When Billy awakes the next morning, a ginormous fin blocks the front door. By this point, you’ll be more than consumed by the tale of Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem.
The Blue Whale Problem, which will be referred to as B.W.P. for the rest of this review, actually spirals into a series of smaller issues. Billy must now drag the massive aquatic mammal to school. He bikes while his new pet following on the strongest skateboard I have ever seen, knocking out power lines the whole way.
The whale ruins everything at school. Instead of showing a movie, Billy's teacher excitedly lectures about (surprise!) whales. Bullies that are old enough to shave turn their aggression toward young Master Twitters. Tilbie Peel, the class know-it-all, gets stuck in the blowhole! And Billy hasn’t even had to deal with the cleaning and maintenance of his 170-ton friend. Just where is he going to find enough krill to keep his burdensome pet fed?
Mac Barnett is no stranger to inventive and surreal tales for children. He also wrote the wonderful Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, in which San Francisco was laid to waste by an out-of-control robot…built by a young girl. The author, when paired with the right illustrator, has the sense of pacing and irony that matches some the best comedians today. If you pick up any of Barnett's books, get ready to expect the unexpected.
Speaking of the right illustrator, Barnett’s talents are perfectly matched with Adam Rex's art. Best known for the hilarious poetry book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, Rex never fails to throw in terrific details. The company that ships the whale to Billy's house is called FEDup (Delivering Punishment Worldwide™) and when Billy drags his whale home from school, the underside of it is covered in graffitti.
On top of that, Rex designed some phenomenal old timey advertisements inside the front and back cover of the book that are not to be missed (Letters just look better when they're written in OCTOPUS INK). The only minor complaint I might have with the pictures is that many of the characters look a tad grotesque. Must be some of that Frankenstein book slipping in there.
Cross The Mysterious Tadpole with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and you'll be close to the tone and humor of Barnett's book. How will Billy solve his mega-B.W.P? The answer is quite creative, but you'll have to get your own tremendous cetacean to find out....or maybe just read the book.