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Review: Birdy’s Smile Book by Laurie Keller

Birdy’s Smile Book
By Laurie Keller
Henry Holt (Macmillan)
ISBN: 9780805088830
Grades K-2
In Stores

I used to be upset with electronic dance music. Too repetitive, too synthetic, too cheesy I thought. But I was ignoring a fact that explained it all – that this sort of music is created for one purpose: to get (and keep) people dancing in a club. And for that purpose it works amazingly well. If my failed college parties taught me anything, it’s that the masses don’t usually want to get down to Player’s Baby Come Back (but, oh how I wish they did).

Birdy’s Smile Book didn’t instantly appeal to me, but (just like with dance music) I was ignoring a fact. A fact which became clear when I read it to a group of kids – that this book is meant to engage and entertain in a storytime setting. And for that purpose it works great. Similar to Keller’s last effort, Do Unto Otters, Birdy is more expository than story. There isn’t a plot – it just tells the reader about smiles in an engaging manner.

Why do we smile? When do we smile? How are smiles different? Birdy acts as tour guide, speaking directly to the reader, frolicking through the answers to all of these questions. There’s humor on every page, as we learn about, among other things, George Washinton’s bad teeth, the health benefits of smiling, and Birdy’s wish to become cheese (if the opportunity to turn into a food ever presented itself). All of which leads up to a participatory grand finale that will leave kids grinning. Speaking of that grand finale …

There’s a bit of a gimmick in this one. Namely, a round plastic mirror on the last page. Normally I shout down this sort of blatant doohickery (“What are you doing, gimmick! Get out of my book!!!”), but this one I don’t mind, as it connects with the subject matter and audience. After listening to a story about smiles, the mirror gives kids a chance to practice their own. In short: it works, so I ain’t mad at it.

The mixed media illustrations are about as sunny and welcoming as you could wish, with heavy doses of warm yellows and oranges. Fonts switch colors and sizes with glee, adding visual interest. Keller’s famed humorous asides are noticeably scaled back here. I’m guessing this is in an effort to appeal more to a group setting, rather than individual reading.

A cheerful book about an cheerful topic – with a purpose in mind. Read it with a group and smile.

Review copy from publisher.

Watch the Birdy’s Smile Book trailer:

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Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Thanks for this kid tested review. I work at a bookstore where I read for story time twice a week and I avoided this title as well – seemed too sweet and the mirror put me off as well. But, like you said, a book that engages and entertains listeners is worth a try. I’ll give it a go today after I read “Children Make Terrible Pets” for the 25th time…

  2. Completely agree with your review. I read this at Barnse and Noble the other day and started thinking….oh great, please don’t ruin this book with a bunch of nonsense….but I would absolutely read this to a group of kids as a community builder. Definitely not a nonsense book – even with the mirror!