In this seventh Johnny Boo adventure, little ghost Johnny Boo and his buddy Squiggle encounter a huge, scary-looking thing floating in the air. Squiggle shrinks it, and they soon discover that the huge scary thing is a pencil. When Johnny picks it up and starts drawing with it, they learn that this pencil is special. Johnny draws a picture of ice cream, it hums for a moment and then turns into real ice cream!
Unfortunately, this attracts the Ice Cream Monster, seen in previous Johnny Boo stories. Instead of eating Johnny Boo this time, the Ice Cream Monster (not a truly scary figure; he has bright yellow-and-pink striped fur and the attitude of a somewhat petulant toddler) steals Johnny Boo’s hair and puts it on his own head. Johnny has to figure out a way to get his hair back, and he might be able to use the special pencil to accomplish his goal.
This book is pure Kochalka: stuffed with fun, innocent silliness and a plot that careens from scene to scene with almost no internal worldbuilding or structure. Young kids won’t be bothered at all by this, though, because it mirrors what goes on during imaginative play extremely well. Why wouldn’t a drawing of ice cream turn real with a special pencil? Why wouldn’t a monster steal a ghost’s hair? And why wouldn’t there be a tiger thrown in there too, just for kicks? Imagination has no limits and no rules.
A gentle message in the story centers on the importance of being free to make one’s own art, and on emphasizing the value of that art. Johnny Boo’s new pencil helps him outsmart the Ice Cream Monster, helps him create a new friend – the tiger – and further cements his friendship with Squiggle. As amazing as Johnny’s world is, the pencil and the potential it represents is by far the most important object in it. This is made clear during the most dramatic moment in the story, when Johnny Boo says, “It looks like I’ll have to think of something [to draw] using my own brain.”
The artwork is very simple-looking, with bright, solid colors, thick lines, and virtually no fine detail. It’s reminiscent of Mo Willems’s or Jan Thomas’s artwork in that it practically begs to be imitated by kids. Despite the simplicity, facial expressions and body language express emotion very well – another trait in common with Willems and Thomas.
Kids aged 4-8 will enjoy this story, and beginning readers in grades 1-3 may especially want to pick this up; it’s a short, silly, appealing book with very little challenging vocabulary. It would be an easy sell to kids who like the Elephant and Piggie series by Willems. Kids who liked Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon or Sue Heap’s Danny’s Drawing Book will also more than likely appreciate the “drawings come to life” aspect of the story.
Johnny Boo Goes Like This! vol. 7
by James Kochalka
Top Shelf, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 4-8