Unless you have been living under a rock, chances are you have been "earwormed" at least once by Ylvis' YouTube sensational hit What Does the Fox Say? Even Stephen King recently Tweeted:
"Probably the last person in America to encounter What Does the Fox Say? Now it will never leave my head."
As a video it is catchy. It's hilarious. And now...it's a picture book.
But it is in my humble opinion that, as a book, all of the magic and humor are lost.
Don't get me wrong, I am quite a fan of the song. I have been known to crank it up as I nanny and break into a dance party with the kids. However, I do not think the picture book works.
In fact, if Ylvis were in my critique group these are the reasons why I would send them back to the drawing board.
* Lyrics are not meant to be read. Music and poetry have their own rules of rhythm and meter. When reading What Does the Fox Say? aloud, it is quite evident that these words were meant to be sung. Picture books need to follow a rhythm that makes sense when read aloud and enhance the read aloud experience. For example, Fox has an irregular rhyme scheme thoughout the book and makes for a disjointed read.
Big blue eyes,
Chasing mice and digging holes.
Up the hill.
Suddenly you're standing still.
Your fur is red.
Like an angel in disguise.
The last line feels like it is just hanging when read.
* Picture books need to make the reader feel like the rockstar. The other day I was reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas aloud. Dr. Seuss' words just rolled off my tongue. I had the freedom to really perform the story for the kids and felt like a total rockstar when doing it. But the gibberish "fox sounds" in What Does the Fox Say? really tripped me up. In fact, I skipped a few because I had absolutely no idea how I would pronounce them. Take a look at the lyrics to the right here. How in the world would you say that? While Dr. Seuss words make me feel like a poet, these words just make the kids wish I was Ylvis.
* Metaphors need to be kid-friendly. I don't buy the fact that this song was originally created for a kids book. I think the humor of the song is in the fact that the singers are taking the lyrics so seriously. To me it is very much on par with Flight of the Conchords in this way. And that really is evident to me in the crazy metaphors that are used. They are not kid friendly, comparing the fox to "an angel in disguise", "ancient mystery" and "guardian angel". These metaphors are used with no explanation or follow-through which makes them metaphors for metaphors' sake. In fact, I have noticed kids tuning out at this point in the song. And I was not surprised that they tuned out during the book when I got to this point, too. Personally, I think Ylvis would have been better to have created a 5 spread board book using only the lyrics at the beginning of the song for a successful kids book.
* The illustrations. Now I know people are going to get upset that I say this, because I have heard many rave about the artwork. And although I do think the art is stunning, I have an issue with it in this context. 1) There is no story. They do not enhance what is written. They don't even tell their own story. If there was no text, I doubt the reader would be able to find a story. It's just crazy fox and animal art all of the way through. 2) The animals are very abstract and creepy at times. I know this kinda plays on the mood of the video, but here it just seems odd. The 2 year old I read it to keep pointing to the creepy animal pictures and saying, "what's that?"
Ok. You might think I am going a little far, picking on the illustrations. However, the bottomline is that the book is a disappointment. If you want to laugh with your kids, you might be better off turning on the YouTube video with it's chaotic dance music and crazy fox chorus. This would be the ONLY time I would ever say, "what the movie, instead!"
However, although few might be laughing over the book, I am sure Ylvis and Simon & Schuster will be laughing all of the way to the bank after this holiday season. Afterall, with a rumored 3 week timeframe from acquisition to printing, I think it's clear that this book only serves to "make a quick buck" during the holidays.
Before signing off, I would like to give spotlight to an unfortunate title that came out this past September and deserves more attention. What Noise Does a Rabbit Make? by Carrie Weston, illustrated by Richard Byrne is a cute little book with a plot and characters and kid-friendly story.
Remember, when we read to our kids not only are we sharing a story and perhaps a laugh, we are also modeling what is GOOD storytelling. Just something to keep in mind when purchasing books in the New Year.
Happy New Year! I look forward to laughing with you in 2014!
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and
theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous!
Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides,
can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. Additionally, Marcie is the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month. She contributes the 4th Friday of the month, as a Blogette, right here, posting on humor in picture books.
Marcie lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.
12/27/2013 01:11:13 am
Thanks for being brave in your blogs, Marcie. Stephen King is probably NOT the last person in America to encounter "What Does the Fox Say?" I suspect I am. :) I've heard about the song and even listened to a bit of it, but was never interested in hearing the whole thing. I listened today because of your blog and find it lacking, as I'm sure I'd find the picture book lacking. (Obviously, I'm not only walking to a different drummer I'm listening to a different soundtrack!) When we put out books like this, to make a quick buck as you say, we are dishonoring our children. It's all about the adults, not about the children. Good point also that we are not modeling good storytelling. And WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? It's really not a mystery. I know that enchanting bark. I hear him down the hill many a night. :)
I agree with you 100% Marcie. The video is hilarious, wacky, and absurd. The tune is very catchy and lively. It is definitely a parody of sorts and doesn't read well as a picture book for all the reasons you mentioned. I believe it was made into a picture book because of $$$. If you or I submitted this text alone to an editor, do you really think they'd love it, not knowing a video was made? This is one of those "fad" books that will not withstand the test of time. But publishers know if they can make a quick buck, then its worth publishing.
12/27/2013 12:53:29 pm
Thanks, Marcie. This is the kind of post I long to write. You're not bashing the book, but you are objectively analyzing what picture book writers should be striving for. Kudos. (And more power to S&S, if that's what keeps them printing books like The Dagger Quick, Wind Flyers, and Robert Sabuda's The Little Mermaid.)
12/27/2013 01:25:22 pm
I had never heard of 'what does the fox say' until this post. I am unlikely to go visit youtube to see it either and your discussion of it puts me in mind of a very disappointing publication which came out in recent years called "Go the F**k to Sleep" a supposed picture book for adults, written by American author Adam Mansbach. Sadly I see it in the children's book section in stores. I love good picture books and always want the ones that will engage and excite children. :) I hope mine will.
1/2/2014 05:11:11 am
I have not seen the YouTube video nor do I anticipate doing so in the future. I saw part of a live performance of this song on TV last week and for a moment just thought they were singing gibberish.
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