This quirky graphic novel uses Gravel’s distinctive style to create a story within a story, but is it really The Worst Book Ever?
The first characters the reader meets are a red spider, black soot gremlin, and pink blob. Throughout the story, they make comments, criticize the author, and cheer on (or heckle) the characters. This starts on the title page, where the spider says “Interesting title choice, isn’t it?” The story, such as it is, begins on the left side of the page while the three characters comment on the right. It starts off reasonably enough, with “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…” but just when the readers are settling in for a fairy tale… things get a little… odd. The “very beautiful prinsess” and the “brave prinse” have been done so many times before! But possibly never looking so like hot dogs. Annoyed that they aren’t included in the story, the three commentators start critiquing the illustrations, counting typos, and complaining about crumbs. The author tries to regain their attention with grandiloquent words, potty humor, mindless violence, and even ads, but nothing works and finally, with a burst of cliches, the book ends.
The endpages are decorated with hot dogs in Gravel’s signature cartoon style. On the left-hand pages, which show the “story,” Gravel has drawn a “prinsess” with red, frog-like mouth, hot-dog shaped “prinse” and, prancing across several pages, an awkwardly-drawn red horse. As the critiquing spider says, “To be fair, horses are really hard to draw.” The commentators are set against a white background, but the fairy tale side has bland pink, yellow, and blue backgrounds and a simple frame.
The book is a tricky size, being slightly larger than the typical easy reader, but not the right size for a picture book. With a reading level and jokes that are more middle grade, or even older and at about 25 pages long, it’s hard to place on a library shelf. Readers will have to navigate lengthy words on one page, jokes about ads in children’s books on another, and complaints of the commentators about the author’s lack of skill with writing dialogue, things they are only likely to catch if they’re familiar with the basics of narratives and writing in general.
Some might use this book to discuss how a book is written or created, but the potty humor is apt to turn teachers off the title. This is a novelty that will amuse kids for a while and have a brief burst of popularity, but quickly be forgotten, along the lines of Proimos’ Knuckle and Potty Destroy Happy World and Scieszka’s Battle Bunny. Add to collections featuring books appealing to fluent but reluctant readers who are unwilling to read outside of Dav Pilkey’s oeuvre.
The Worst Book Ever
By Elise Gravel
Drawn and Quarterly, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Picture Books (3-8), Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)