Review: Roger is Reading a Book by Koen Van Biesen
Roger is Reading a Book
By Koen Van Biesen
When I finally get around to writing the blog post “You Might Be Reading A Foreign Picture Book If…” one of the things on that list will be “…the protagonist is a grown-up”. You just don’t see many books originating in the United States where an adult is the star of the show. I understand why – picture books are for kids, so their experience should be the focus. But then you come across a book like Belgian import Roger is Reading a Book by author/illustrator Koen Van Biesen you realize that books with grown-ups don’t have to be off-limits. They just have to be good. And that’s what this one is.
Roger is reading.
Roger is reading a book.
Emily is playing.
Emily is playing a game.
The nattily-dressed Roger is interrupted when the little girl next door starts making a racket with her basketball. He raps on the wall to make her stop. It works – until Emily decides it’s time for singing practice. And drum practice. And juggling practice. Roger has had it. He goes out and gets Emily a gift: a book of her own. Finally, some peace and quiet.
The text is wonderfully efficient – simple and straightforward, with keen use of repetition. I’ve been reading it to Kindergarten classes recently and can attest to the book’s read-aloud effectiveness. It has humor, which always plays well (including the final punchline of Roger’s dachshund taking a bathroom break on a city lamppost), and a nice mix of quiet and loud moments which making for dynamic reading. Fact: sound effects never hurt anyone during story time. Roger is Reading a Book has some noises that readers will be eager to echo.
The mixed-media illustrations bring a playful tone to the story, with bright colors on ample white space. Occasional photographic elements add interest. The gutter is smartly used as the dividing wall between Roger and his young neighbor, making each page a room of its own. This also sets up the conclusion of the story, where Roger and Emily leave their apartments to walk the dog, together.
Unique yet exceedingly inclusive, Roger is Reading a Book will make a delightful addition to your picture book collection.
Review copy from the publisher.
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 email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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