Title: Barnacle Is Bored
Author/Illustrator: Jonathan Fenske
Publisher: Scholastic, 2016
Guys, they opened a new library near my house! I am totally going to the grand opening next month and you better believe I’ve already taken out 20+ books on our inaugural visit.
The library is small, but the children’s section is good. The librarian in charge of picture books is doing a really good job featuring ones that kids will want to pick off of the clear stands. My kids pretty much cleared them off. New books! Wonderful!
One of the books I chose was Barnacle Is Bored. The cover art is what immediately attracted me to the book. Barnacle looks legit bored and kind of salty. I figured this book might be similar to I’m Bored! by Michael Ian Black (illustrated by the fabulous Debbie Ridpath Ohi). Stay tuned to find out if I was right or not!
When we got back from the library, this was the first book I chose for story time. I started reading and then realized something: this book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. My kids both gave it a pretty solid “meh” when I was done. I’ve re-read it a few times since then (because my girls are usually very generous with their praise) and I think I understand why: the story itself wasn’t interesting to them and the ending wasn’t a good enough payoff/one they haven’t seen already. Let me break it down:
1. The art is good. Really cute, really cartoon-ish. The characters are pretty darn adorable. And trust me, making a barnacle adorable is NOT easy. Those things are so creepy!
2. The language used is simple. Really simple. If you were reading this to a little one (say 3 and under), you’d be able to use it as an opportunity to explain the opposites the barnacle mentions: under, over, up, down, bored (the barnacle), not bored (the fish). You could use the alliteration to discuss the way words sound. It would be a really interesting discussion, I am sure.
3. The payoff (the excitable little fish being eaten by a large eel) has been done in Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau. I think that’s why my kids weren’t exactly shocked or surprised by the ending. (Vivi actually said “We’ve read a book like this one before.”) Now, to be fair, the stories themselves aren’t anything alike. But the ‘one fish gets eaten by a big ugly fish’ thing is the same.
4. I’m not sure what the moral is. Not that children’s books NEED morals, of course, but it felt like there should be some kind of take-away from this. Let’s unpack: Barnacle dislikes boring life. Barnacle observes little fish’s potentially exciting life and is jealous. Potentially exciting fish is eaten by big, ugly eel (and is then bored inside the eel). So I guess the story could mean “enjoy your life when it is peaceful, because the only thing that’s certain is change” or “don’t envy someone else’s life, because you don’t know their story/how things are going to go for them” or “be happy with what you have, even if you’re not really enjoying it.” (which is a terrible moral, by the way. But, really, it feels like it fits best. Note that the barnacle says he’s not bored at the end of the book, after witnessing the eel eating the little fish, he’s hiding at this point, terrified. So…maybe it’s better to be terrified than bored?)
I could be reading too much into this.
I looked this one up on Goodreads and found that, as is sometimes the case, my opinion isn’t that of most people. Most reviewers LOVED this book. Which is great! To each their own, of course. And, to be fair, although I don’t love it, I don’t dislike it. I am thoroughly neutral on this story. Will we be buying our own copy? Nope. Will I read it again to my kids? Also nope. They specifically said that the story was “just a little too boring for them.”
Take home message: read it with a younger kiddo. They’ll like it better.
Mama’s review: B