My son is almost four years old and I read books to him every night, sometimes more than once, and most nights he picks the books we read. My greatest achievement in the realm of reading books to my son was when I taught him to say the world ‘philharmonic’, which is from the book Jake the Philharmonic Dog (I’ve read this book a million times), which isn’t nearly as good as Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem.
Illustrator Adam Rex has a great earthy style that is at times both inquisitive and interesting in its ability to show children as they really are: sometimes alone, other times asking their parents questions and many times trying to figure out how to be a kid. Artwork in children’s books is often silly and splashy; Rex makes everything seem plausible, erasing the illusion of a drawing, which made me believe that Billy Twitters really did get a blue whale delivered to his home while he slept. His parents are trying to teach him responsibility, so they order him a blue whale. It’s implausible and impossible; but perfect for a kids’ picture book. Billy has to take his blue whale to school, and along the way we learn a thing or two about whales. My son thought all whales had teeth, and was very interested to learn that instead they have baleen, which is made out of the same stuff as human fingernails. On the second reading, my son realized that whales have his fingernails inside their mouths…not exactly…but he caught on.
There are few instances where the blue whale is compared to other creatures: a dinosaur and a prehistoric shark. Both garnered keen interest from my son, but I thought these comparisons were a little bit wordy and hard to pronounce in an otherwise fluid and funny narrative. I like how Mac Barnett writes; it’s even keeled and approachable, and easy for a kid to listen to. My only bone to pick with the book is the use of the word “stupidest” by Frank Grunner, another student in Billy’s class. As a parent I often have to censor myself; besides the hurricane of four, six, and nine letter words that fly out of my mouth constantly, I have to be careful of the word ‘stupid’. Kids repeat everything they hear, and this word is tough to avoid. A minor point in an otherwise great book. I might just be sensitive to the word.
The true test of any children’s book is how a child reacts to it. I read Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem to my son twice this evening, and when I was done I started to page through it while I wrote this review. My son got out of bed and took it back from me and set it down next to him while he went to sleep. We’ll be reading this book for a long time to come.