First Second branches out into picture books with this sweet and funny story about a little girl and her stuffed friends. Anna Banana is supposed to be going to sleep, but she’s reading such a good book that she just can’t put it down. Too bad for her stuffed animals, who’d really like to get some sleep! When Anna Banana finally decides it’s time for bed, her fuzzy friends have different ideas and they turn the tables on her neatly until she learns to have some consideration for others.
The story isn’t as didactic as that simple description makes it sound; it’s cute and funny without hammering home the message. The real draw, what makes the story really work, is the delightful art. It’s arranged in panels, but without borders, leaving plenty of white space to separate each event. Some images cover most of a page, while others are split into multiple small pictures on a page. There is both narration and dialogue, the latter in speech balloons. The narration is in a smaller font than the dialogue, but both are sketched in a dark brown/grey ink and very readable.
Anna and her friends have fuzziness galore: Anna’s wild hair, her animals’ fur, waggly ears, and other appendages. The background is sketched in lightly: a bed and a few pieces of furniture for the scenes with the lights on, a streaky wash of blue for lights out. The best part of the art is the expressions. Anna and her animals have wildly expressive faces, from Anna’s sleep-heavy eyes and her shocked face as her animals revolt, to their determined and grim looks as they put up with her late-night reading and then exact a little revenge of their own. There are plenty of funny details to look for as well, from Whaley spouting in surprise to Pingpong’s wild flight for freedom.
The picture book audience is unlikely to take much of a lesson from this, but they’ll certainly enjoy the silly story, and even parents will have a few chuckles over the clever animals and the little girl who gets her comeuppance. It’s a fun choice to add to the bedtime story repertoire and a great introduction to graphic novels for preschoolers and beginning readers. My only reservation about this book is the paper. When I first read it, I thought I was imagining things, but then I compared it to a bunch of other picture books I had sitting around, and it’s not my imagination; they used a really odd paper. It’s thinner and slick, more like what you might find in a magazine or colored comic than in a normal picture book. While I’m not going to rip the book just to test it, the kids in my library will definitely do that for me. Hopefully they’ll use a more standard paper in future editions and in later adventures of Anna Banana.