A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
A Perfectly Messed-Up Story Book Poster Image
Cartoon character scolds the reader in funny tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There's a humorous lesson to take care of the books you read and don't drop food or get dirty finger smudges on the pages. 

Positive Messages

You can persevere, despite obstacles and things going wrong. You can still have fun, even when things don't go exactly as planned. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Louie is realistically upset when things go wrong. But, despite obstacles, he rallies and decides to persevere, declaring at the end, "Nothing is going to stop me!"

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Perfectly Messed-Up Story is by Caldecott Honor winner Patrick McDonnell, who's also the creator of the comic strip Mutts. Louie, an endearing comic character, skips merrily across the pages of his book only to come upon blobs of jelly and peanut butter and stains made carelessly from orange juice, crayons, and fingerprints. The inference is that whoever's reading the book is being less than careful. As the obstacles rain down, Louie cycles through a gamut of comically dramatic emotions, ranging from anger to despair. But in the end, he resolutely decides, "C'mon, let's finish this!" and declares, "Nothing is going to stop me!" Lots of fun for kids who are old enough to get the humor. 

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What's the story?

Louie is a young, expressive cartoon character who starts off his book tra-la-ing merrily across a field. But then -- oh, no! -- a big blob of something lands smack on the page in front of him. Louie sniffs it. It's jelly! "Who would eat a jelly sandwich while reading my book?" he asks, face front, clearly accusing the reader. "Plop!" A big glob of peanut butter covers Louie's face. As we turn the pages, Louie comes upon fingerprints and orange juice splatter, and he gets angry. "My story is all messed up!" Still, he decides to take it "from the top," skipping across a clean page, only to come upon crayon scribbles. "My story is ruined!" he wails. But then the narration starts again, prodding Louie to resume "skipping merrily along." He gets up, sees a clean page, and realizes "everything is fine," declaring resolutely, "Nothing is going to stop me!"

Is it any good?

A PERFECTLY MESSED-UP STORY is lots of fun. Louie is an endearing cartoon character whose reactions to the obstacles he encounters are exaggerated and comic. When things go wrong, he acts out in the way we'd all like to. Kids will laugh at both Louie's overblown reactions and at the idea of the book itself, that it's getting more and more fouled with every turn of the page. Those bits of peanut butter and jelly aren't just small smears; they're big, gloppy blobs.

Kids will love being in on the joke, that there's a story within a story. And the book is topped off with a positive message: It's good to persevere.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how kids feel when things go wrong. Do you ever feel that life is throwing too many obstacles your way? What can you do when that happens?

  • What is Louie's story, and what's the story that happens to the book? How are they different? How do they intersect? 


  • Have you ever messed up a drawing or project and felt that it was ruined? Did you think of a way to fix it?

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