Bobo's Smile

Bobo's Smile

Seymour Chwast (Author & Illustrator)

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Depressed by the closure of the circus, a clown named Bobo embarks on an assortment of adventures around the world, but he is not able to smile again until returning to his home and work.

Reviews

A particularly poker-faced clown searches far and wide for happiness after the circus closes, only to find it after a most unexpected and unpleasant event. On the cover Bobo's smile is missing. Even though the endpapers offer myriad upturned mouths to choose from, recovering his smile will not come so easily. Yes, life was good when he could make people laugh, but that all vanishes when the circus is shuttered. Initially sad, the clown decides to take a trip around the world. Chwast's flat, bright colors outlined in ink on muted pastel backgrounds illustrate his many adventures: in an airplane, on a roller coaster, astride an elephant and underwater. Each framed picture portrays a straight-faced Bobo experiencing it all. The first-person narration, delivered in an easy-to-read text, accompanies the retro graphic art. "Finally it was time to go home." The following wordless spread reveals a bewildered Bobo crossing a city street teeming with vehicles. Somewhat shockingly the page turn shows a suspicious man all in brown robbing the colorful clown. This results in the buttons falling off of his clothes and hat. He then begins to juggle the buttons–still with an expressionless face. Soon his juggling draws a crowd. Then he smiles. Unfortunately, the well-meaning message is delivered by a character whose lack of affect has no likely appeal for the intended preschool audience.

Kirkus , March 2012

Chwast's (My Daddy and Me) instantly recognizable style makes every jaunty spread of this episodic story worth framing. Its hero, Bobo the clown, looks part human and part doll–his ruffled collar, striped pants, and white makeup never come off. After Bobo's career comes to a sudden end ("One day, they closed the circus"), he travels the world, taking photographs of pagodas and riding elephants. Yet not even a ride in a submarine can cheer him up. A thief robs him after he returns from his trip, and the buttons pop off his costume; instinctively, he begins to juggle them, a crowd gathers, and he's back in business. "I smiled," he says at last. The book's long middle section is puzzling, and the halting narration ("I went on rides. I saw strange buildings") doesn't help. Bobo's travels show him an enchanting world, but his lost expression dampens the pleasure for readers. At its best, it's a story about finding one's way after a setback, but the portrait of unemployment and depression may hit too close to home for some parents.

Publishers Weekly , February 2012

From the cover of this book, children can see that something is definitely wrong with Bobo's smile. It's been erased right off his face. In very brief sentences, the clown tells about his life in the circus. He loves entertaining the crowds –in the first pages, his smile is wide and welcoming. Then the circus closes, and Bobo has to find something else to do to make himself happy. He tries many things, including traveling the world visiting new cities, mountain climbing, and elephant riding, but nothing works. He finally returns to the city, where he is overwhelmed by the traffic and noises. When it seems his smile will never return, something unexpected happens. The text is purposefully simple, and it would be fun for new readers to tackle, as the vocabulary is easy without seeming leveled. Chwast's illustrative choices are also simple. There are spacious, colored backgrounds, with little detail to distract from Bobo's sadness. No matter where he is on the page, he is always the focus, yet Chwast is also able to depict his experiences throughout his journey with just a few spare lines. Readers will be glued to Bobo's face throughout the story, hoping to see his smile return.

–Susan E. Murray, School Library Journal , May 2012