Review: McToad Mows Tiny Island by Tom Angleberger
McToad Mows Tiny Island
By Tom Angleberger
Illustrated by John Hendrix
Out September 1, 2015
McToad likes Thursdays.
Every other day of the week he mows the grass on Big Island.
But Thursday is the day he mows Tiny Island.
In those three lines, you basically get the story. It’s Thursday. Time to mow Tiny Island. But as the cover calls this “A Transportation Tale”, we soon see that it’s all about the journey. McToad loads his shuddering, smoke-spewing rider onto a truck, then a train, then an airplane, then baggage buggy, helicopter, and boat before touching down on (man, were they not kidding) Tiny Island via crane. This all leads to a glorious anti-climax: two passes and the job is done. Time to call it a day. Where’s the crane?
McToad’s sense of duty is admirable. This guy loves his mower, doting over it with old-fashined oil can and “nice, clean cloth”. He keeps meticulous records:
He is completely dedicated to a job that appears to have no purpose other than providing a feeling of accomplishment. Or perhaps there is no higher purpose than that? His work is his joy. I fully expect McToad’s next move to be a Nick Offerman-esque meditation on the human condition called The Tao of Mowing: An Amphibian Finds Joy Among Leaves of Grass. We should all strive to reach McToad’s level of grinning, “ain’t this great?” enlightenment.
The story is delightfully absurd, but it also lends itself to closer examination. Why is there no other living soul in McToad’s world (save for a flock of birds who happen to be passing above Big Island)? Does he own these islands? Is he rich? He must own these islands. How did he acquire his fortune? Landscaping mogul? Inheritance? Why does he bother mowing? I’ve never seen a toad interested in such things. And why is he so into corporate branding? There’s a McToad logo on everything. I’m excited to read this with kids, because they’ll have the answers.
Hendrix doesn’t do humor all that often, but man is his style well suited for it. His islands are awash in warm yellows and reds, countered by the verdant green of the fastidiously maintained lawns that spill over everything. His jangly line has always struck a balance between the real and surreal, and here provides the perfect amount of cozy imperfection for this ridiculous tale. A patched straw hat, slightly frayed curtains, a wood-bead truck seat cover – this is a world that is not just created, but lived in. Hendrix’s illustrations feel familiar – and we always laugh more when we’re comfortable.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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