Review Date: February 11th, 2019
Written By: Beatrice Alemagna
Harold is turning seven years old. He’s never had a real birthday party. His parents are too grumpy.
But this year is going to be different. Thanks to a peculiar man names Mr. Ponzio, something incredible is going to happen on Harold’s birthday. And it’s going to be absolutely extraordinary.
This book sounded really fun when I first saw it. It has a funny title and cover art that really makes you wonder what kind of crazy stuff is going to happen in this book. And there’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens, for sure! I had high expectations for this one, because I think it was really promising.
It starts off a little slow, with Harold explaining that he’s sad and that his parents are basically what amounts to snooty rich people who have a kid more for decoration than for like, being a family. But they care enough about him that when he gets really really sad about his non-party birthday, his parents take action and ask someone to come make sure their son is happy. (Again, they aren’t taking an active role here). And soon there is a wild assortment of animals going through his house, making a mess, destroying all those fancy snooty-people things. Harold and his parents get caught up in the stampede as the animals leave the house and are swept away with them.
Ultimately, this all leads to them seeing things in a new perspective and Harold getting a party, in a sense, after all. It’s a really cute idea. My husband was the one to read this to Madeline, and he said that he wasn’t really a fan of the artwork. That it felt dark and unfinished to him. As an artist, I can appreciate the painting style, but I do have to agree about the darkness. There’s some really rich colors happening that I think turn out a bit muddied. I think that in part it was intended to be this way, as the colors become more obviously vibrant by the end, but its a shame to lose the depth of the artwork in some of the earlier pages, especially when the animals get involved.
While the story was enjoyable, I think the overall moral and plotting to get to it was just a tad clunky. The transition from Harold’s introduction of disaster, through the actual disaster, to him explaining how disasters can bring about something new and great, is very close to making a strong and easy to follow connection, but the wording is just a little off. Mainly, I get tripped up when he says, toward the end, “So do you see what I’m trying to say about disasters?” Because he had just been telling a story about his day. It stopped me momentarily and made me wonder whether I had missed a page where he was trying to say anything about disasters to start with.
Flipping back to the beginning, I realized that he was circling back around to his opening page, which was: “Some days feel like complete disasters. You feel turned upside down, and it seems impossible that anything good could happen. Well, let me tell you the whole story from the beginning.” And then he proceeds to tell a story, which is the bulk of the book. I think if this opener had been altered just slightly, to emphasize or mention what disasters can lead to, it would have tied up nicer. Just a single sentence to say something along the lines of “but good can be found after disasters” and the problem would be solved. I know this seems really picky, but if I have to stop and flip back to make a connection, it’s definitely something to be aware of.
That said, Madeline seemed to enjoy the story as a whole, especially the animals and their antics. The plotting probably had no bearing for her opinion of this one at all, because she was entertained and she’s three. The artwork wasn’t an issue for her either, as I think children actually really enjoy artwork that takes on a childlike aspect. There’s a quality about this artwork that evokes a child’s hand, which seems to do well in children’s books. Time will tell whether this one gets chosen to be read often or not. I have a sneaking suspicion it will actually be requested more than we think, but we will see.
- Tear & Fold Resistance: 7/10
- Font Readability: 9/10
- Kid Engagement: 7/10
- Mommy Engagement: 6/10