Written by Sean Ferrell, Illustrated by Charles Santoso
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
Adam does not like Koala.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy dislikes his new stuffed animal.
Adam happily opens the big gift box, but is unhappy to find a stuffed koala inside. He tries to tell his parents but they don’t seem to understand. So every night, after he finishes getting ready for bed, he tries hiding the koala where it will never be found. But when he wakes up, it’s always in bed with him. He goes for a long walk, with Koala in his backpack and when they are far away from home (and he’s sure Koala isn’t looking), Adam runs home, leaving Koala in the woods. But when he gets home, Koala is there. As Adam is going to bed that night, he thinks about Koala’s terrible face and terrible eyes that are always watching. Then he realizes that maybe Koala’s eyes are watching out for something worse and standing guard. He cuddles him close and tells him that he loves Koala.
Although he has written a couple of novels and some short stories, this is the first picture book from author Sean Ferrell and it’s a quirky first book that sets the bar pretty high. As soon as I picked it up, I was instantly reminded of a really unsettling stuffed toy that a friend of mine had when I was young. Showing the book to others brought similar stories, proving that Mr. Ferrell hit a subconscious nerve with readers, who are all suddenly remembering weird and creepy toys and dolls from their childhood. So, of course, we all sympathize with Adam and even more with Adam’s father, who gets to say the book’s punch line when he confides in his wife (on the inside back cover) that he doesn’t like Koala.
It’s illustrator Charles Santoso’s artwork, in pencil and digital color, that gives Koala his creepy stare and somewhat disheveled and not-quite-trustworthy look. In the first few pages, we are introduced to Adam and Koala in pictures with no background, in which we see Adam’s delight at receiving a present turn to dismay at seeing Koala. Mr. Santoso draws Koala with one eye turned to the side, showing us the reason for his appearance being a little off. There are other fun things to notice in the artwork, too, such as the pictures of Adam ‘running home’ from abandoning Koala, showing that he may not have ever actually left his house at all. His acceptance of Koala as an ally is cute without being overly saccharine and his dad’s final line is the perfect ending. I enjoyed this one a lot.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes all it takes to realize you like someone is a tiny shift in your perception of them.