"Oh my god, a typewriter! I've never seen one of those before! This is the best day of my life!"
It starts kind of abruptly. There's no title page; on the first page there's just three rows, comic-style, of things that are happening: kids come up on bicycles, see a carousel and see that it's closed, and then this full-page-width strip of the girl's eyes just being amazed. It took me a while to figure out whether that was actually the first page or if it was like a preview of what I was about to see and then the title page was going to come after it, but, nope, that's the first page. That's what happens when you ignore convention: you confuse the average reader, but critics who are bored by the usual think it's amazing and groundbreaking.
This is a pretty surreal story. The main characters are three kids on bicycles, two boys (one of the boys looks Asian, and one of the boys looks white) and a black girl (of course she's in the pink with a pink helmet and a pink bike). They're bicycling in what appears to a street that's been cleaned with snow on the edges. They find a carousel in the middle of the street and they approach it. The carousel is closed, but one of the animals in the carousel is a bee, and on the back of the bee is a box and inside the box is a typewriter. The girl just happens to have some paper in her backpack and she puts it in the typewriter and types the word "beach." Then, suddenly, they're on a beach. Someone types the word "ball," and there's a ball. Someone types the words, "ice cream" and this massive amount of ice cream appears in a giant bucket. She types in the word, "crab," and this giant crab, about ten feet tall, comes and starts menacing them for some unknown reason, stepping on the beach ball. She types "big wave;" a big wave comes by and washes the crab away, and then she types, "the end," and then they all find themselves standing in their beach clothes with their shoes and jackets off in front of the carousel on the street looking at a typewriter. They put the typewriter away and tape the paper that they wrote to the side of the bee and put the typewriter on the bee and all bicycle off.
Part of the author note on this says something like, "He created a handmade model of a bumblebee before beginning his artwork using traditional painting techniques. He meticulously painted each illustration by hand with acrylic paint and colored pencils. His illustrations are not photographs or computer-generated images." Dang, this guy just strikes me as being full of himself. "Look at how gorgeous this image is!" I mean, it is pretty, but the images themselves-- every time you see the kids, they look like bad child actors where they're just overly amazed. Like more amazed than it makes sense for them to be. There was a carousel in the middle of the road-- I'm gonna give them that. But then they're just stunned at the appearance of the bumblebee, like that's the most stunning thing: a bumblebee with a box and letters on the back of it. That's amazing to them. There's this spread of the three of them with the bumblebee left of center, and on the right you see the kids, chest up, with this amazement on their face. The girl is literally holding one hand to one of her cheeks and she's got this half-smile, half-astonished look on her face. Like I said, it just looks like bad acting. Especially because in the next scene they've got the typewriter down, and they're just kind of going, "Yep, there's a typewriter in this box. I guess that's what was in there." And then in the one after that, one of the boys is looking at the typewriter with an expression of amazement and glee on his face, like, "Wow, a typewriter! That's amazing!" Okay, maybe he's never seen a typewriter in his life, but it's not a terribly amazing example of a typewriter, and I wouldn't imagine that kids find typewriters terribly amazing to begin with. Sometimes the amazement is just like totally weirdly placed in this book it's like they're astonished that when she types "beach" that they're on the beach, but they're just like, "Okay, giant bucket of ice cream that's like four feet tall. Sure, why not."
And there's no indication of how the typewriter magic seems to know how big to make things. The ball that they make is the size of a normal beach ball. Do things just increase in size over the course of the story? And why is this giant crab chasing them? She didn't type, "giant crab that hungers for the flesh of children." And at the end when she types, "big wave," she just looks at the reader smugly, like, "Yep, I did that. I made that big wave wash that crab away. Look how awesome I am." When they're back to normal they're barely even looking at the typewriter, mostly just at their clothes as they put their jackets back on and prevent themselves from dying of exposure. There's no indication at all of what is going through their heads as they leave the typewriter behind. Due to the realism, I'm guessing the illustrator had actual child models posing for him, and they weren't the best actors. Like when you see a stock image or something like that of like kids and they just have these expressions on their face that are nowhere near genuine reactions. That's how the book makes me feel on pretty much every page. Like they're just so gosh darn proud of themselves. It just makes the book look like it's full of itself. It's not bad, I just don't find it to be a terrific book.
The message is clearly about the power of imagination. I don't know how a story this inventive and fantastical and unique is executed with this much cliche. It just ends up being so trite. It's pretty. It's nice to look at. But that's strictly because the guy's a good artist. There's nothing amazing about the vast majority of the things which are depicted. I mean, he did a really good job painting a crab. Congratulations. I hope the author-illustrator is not as arrogant as the book makes him seem. It's a decent book. I don't really care one way or the other whether people read this to my kids, so my rating falls squarely in the middle.