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Friday, October 7, 2016

Noodlehead Nightmares by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Today's post is from Carrie Wolfson. Carrie lives and works in Denver, Colorado, where she's a Children's Librarian for the Denver Public Library.


Image from Noodlehead Nightmares by Ted Arnold,
Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss
Noodlehead Nightmares is a beginning comic about Mac and Mac, two brothers who are literally noodles. Sourced from folklore, the story unfolds in three chapters, each drawn from popular motifs from world cultures across time. Noodleheads is both a goofy romp for young readers and a distinctive book that connects children to a wider culture of storytelling.

In Chapter One, What a Nightmare! Mac and Mac opt to sleep outside instead of making their beds, only to get their feet tangled in the dark. Chapter Two, The Best Dream sees the noodleheads swindled by their neighbor, Meatball, who cons them out of a pie during a nap. The final chapter, Bedtime for Noodleheads, sees Mac and Mac deploying some seriously flawed logic to solve problems...in their sleep.

Throughout the book, action-oriented images and thoughtfully selected text scaffold readers’ confidence. Noodleheads Nightmares’ language is primarily simple, straightforward dialogue; when longer words do appear, the text carries readers through on a tide of short, repeated words. Check out this sequence that builds readers up to decipher “untangled,” a three-syllable doozy:
Image from Noodlehead Nightmares by Ted Arnold,
Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss
Image from Noodlehead Nightmares by Ted Arnold,
Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss
When Mac and Mac’s legs become tangled, the story uses variation on a theme to empower readers. The authors also introduce words early in the book that anchor later chapters, preparing readers for success with more complex storytelling and wordplay. For instance, in the sequence above, Mac declares “I have an idea!” In Chapter Two, after mom has baked an apple pie, the noodleheads’ friend Meatball turns that phrase into the pun, “I have a pie-dea!,” a linguistic leap that could trip up many readers.

In addition to the well-considered text, the book shines with illustrations that balance absurdity with wide-eyed charm. Casting the noodleheads as two children (rather than foolish adults or gullible animals as they can appear in folklore) brings the story closer to home for reluctant young readers and adds gentleness to three old tales that are, after all, jokes at the expense of the main characters. Author and illustrator Tedd Arnold recieved Geisel honors in 2006 and 2010 for books in the Fly Guy series, and co-authors Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss are seasoned oral storytellers. These creators know how to hook an audience with laughs. Physical comedy propels this book’s tight, witty plotting, from tangled legs to stolen pies to going to bed wearing hats and mittens.

Image from Noodlehead Nightmares by Ted Arnold,
Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss
As a Geisel contender, Noodleheads falters slightly around design; while much of the book uses panelling and speech bubbles that provide just enough white space, some sequences feel overcrowded. Cramped speech bubbles here and there may fatigue new readers, and the final chapter features a dreamscape with a texture similar enough to the waking moments that deciphering the storyline may frustrate readers.

Whether it winds up on the Geisel list or not, Noodlehead Nightmares is a witty, satisfying comic that this librarian will share widely.

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