The Nonsense Show

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Nonsense Show Book Poster Image
Bright, silly scenes of world turned upside down.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Could serve as an introduction to surrealism. Older, school-age readers might compare the art to classic surrealist paintings. Which elements are similar? Younger readers will look closely to discern what's real and what's nonsense.

Positive Messages

It's fun to reimagine the world in silly, nonsensical ways. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Humans and animals act silly and have fun.

Violence & Scariness

Very young kids sometimes have a fear of dismemberment, so the picture of a runner's torso separating from his legs could possibly be upsetting.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Nonsense Show is Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) at his silliest. The dedication page mentions French artist René Magritte, and Carle says the book is his homage to surrealism, but it's as much Monty Python as Magritte, a sideshow of nonsensical visual jokes: a jungle cat sporting both tiger stripes and leopard spots, and a lion taming a pair of humans on circus pedestals. Each spread has rhyming text that points readers to the element that's nonsense, though the rhyme doesn't flow from one spread to the next; each can be taken as a separate episode, as if Carle were illustrating a volume of Shel Silverstein's poems. Some of the most successful spreads feature animals, which kids love and which Carle renders with characteristic color and appeal.

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What's the story?

THE NONSENSE SHOW is framed as a circus sideshow. It opens with a rabbit pulling a boy out of a hat, with text that reads "Welcome friends! Don't be slow. Step right up to The Nonsense Show!" The pages that follow each feature some rhyming text and a silly scene that upends our expectations -- for instance, a snake with two heads or a man in a doghouse. At the end of the book, the boy who was pulled out of the hat gleefully pushes the rabbit offstage, with a cascade of words in a speech balloon emphasizing the nonsense: "preposterous, poppycock, baloney, hogwash." The rabbit holds his arms out in triumph, shouting "THE END!"

Is it any good?

This whimsical book, which bills itself as an homage to surrealism, will appeal to young readers as pure nonsensical fun. A mouse chases a cat, a kangaroo has a kid in his pouch, a bird in a fish tank talks to a fish in a bird cage. The spirit isn't that much of a departure from vintage Carle, in which a hungry caterpillar eats salami, a pickle, and chocolate cake.

Kids will have fun spotting characters similar to ones in other beloved Carle books. That kangaroo looks familiar -- though this time he has a boy popping out of his pouch. And the moon? Straight out of Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, another book with a fanciful premise. Here, some jokes are funnier than others, and the rhyme's occasionally choppy. But Carle's signature bold, bright art is catnip for the youngest readers, who're still piecing together the world and therefore very happy to be in on the joke that something doesn't make sense.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what's silly in the pictures. In each scene, what do you expect? How is it different from what you expect?

  • Older kids can look at surrealist paintings. How are they similar to the pictures in The Nonsense Show?

  • Eric Carle combines elements that don't "go" together. Try painting funny things that are different from the way they are in the real world.

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