Written and Illustrated by William Bee
Candlewick Press, 2005
This is Billy. And this is Billy’s dad. Billy can be very difficult to please.
The plot in a nutshell: A father tries to entertain his son
Billy’s father tries to engage Billy’s attention by showing him a giraffe, but Billy’s response is “Whatever.” He then tries to interest him in butterflies, but get the same response. Dad plays a tune on an astoundingly curly trumpet, but gets another ‘whatever’ from Billy. He takes him to the bounciest bouncy castle, takes him for a train trip and flies him to the edge of outer space and all he gets in return is ‘whatever.’ He attempts to scare him by showing him the hungriest tiger, but Billy is once again unimpressed. The tiger eats Billy and when Billy points out that he’s inside the tiger, his father responds, “Whatever.”
I want to applaud author/illustrator William Bee for giving this book an ending that is both expected, since you can somewhat see the punchline coming, and unexpected, since the book ends with a main character in the belly of a tiger. Of course, you can’t help but draw parallels to Maurice Sendak’s Pierre, as the plots are virtually identical. I do, however, see a major difference in Whatever, with the fact that Billy’s response is a little more open to interpretation. ‘Whatever’ can mean you are unimpressed or that you have given up or that you have no dissenting opinion and amenable to all choices. (This last version is most often used when people are discussing where to go for dinner.)
The digital artwork is minimal, but could add credibility to any of those interpretations. Billy often looks away from what his father is trying to show him, which underscores either of the first two interpretations. But if you take the theory of him being fine to do whatever his dad wants to do, then his father becomes an overeager, trying-too-hard type of parent. Any version brings him back to the same end and his father’s response, which kids will likely find more humorous than shocking. It is a short, but very enjoyable read.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that when you fail to care about the ones around you, you may find them not so concerned about you.