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Review: A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
By Patrick McDonnell

Little, Brown

ISBN: 9780316222587
Grades PreK-2
Out Now

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

For people in the human world, being used is a bad thing. For books in the school library world, being used is a fact of life. Librarians are always looking for books that can be used to spark discussion, introduce new perspectives, and support skills. A good book is a good book, but if it can serve another purpose that’s icing on the rectangular paper cake. From this librarian’s perspective, 2014 has been a good year for useful, from The Jacket to My Pet Book. With A Perfectly Messed-Up Story, Caldecott Honoree Patrick McDonnell creates a story that invites young readers in, and then tries to get them out – all because of some poor book care. For 32 pages, fun and function meet.

Once upon a time, little Louie went skipping merrily along.

Before Louie’s story can kick into gear it is interrupted by a glob of jelly. Is the reader eating? The falling dollop of crunchy peanut butter confirms it. These messes are soon followed by more – fingerprints, orange juice, and (the final straw) scribbled crayons. Louie is not happy. More than that, he’s depressed. Can the narrator (and the reader) lift him out of his funk in time for a happy ending?

McDonnell doesn’t go didactic here. The reader isn’t directly blamed for the mess. Due to forces outside his control, Louie would rather not  take part in this ruined book any longer. It feels like a natural conclusion for the character to make after his story goes off the rails.

Not to go all illustration nerd on you, but the production on this book is superb. McDonnell uses a mixture of pen & ink,brush pen, crayon, watercolors, and photographic elements – everything looks gorgeous. The photos are crisp, the colors bright. Negative space is used well, highlighting the fingerprints, crayon scribbles, and orange juice spill.

As with many meta picture books, sometimes the conclusion has a hard time living up to the excellent set-up. While the conclusion of this story comes a bit easier than I’d like, it does wrap things up in a way that makes sense.

This is a book that will perform well in a read aloud setting, and can be used as a jumping-off point for talking about loving books and treating them with care It will work no matter the date, but you might be wise to add this to your beginning the year books. Beautifully besmirched.

Review copy purchased.

Watch Little, Brown Head of School and Library Marketing Victoria Stapleton wish A Perfectly Messed-Up Story a happy book birthday:

A Perfectly Messed-Up #BookBirthday from LB School on Vimeo.

@VictoriaLBYR tries her level best to wish a Happy #BookBirthday to A PERFECTLY MESSED-UP STORY by Patrick McDonnell

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. I love this book, and so far all the classes I have read it to have enjoyed it, and some seem to get the idea behind it as well. (I often am reading to 2-4 year olds who are not native English speakers)