2 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever loaned a friend or loved one money? Isn't it amazing how they suddenly start hiding from you? Or how, even when you do find them, they act guilty or make all kinds of excuses about why they don't have your money? You're definitely not alone, and now you can even say there's a children's book all about it!
Mr. Pirkl's Tale: The Briscoe's got conned by Samuel Sele Okonofua is, you guessed it, the very children's book I was just talking about. Mr. and Mrs. Brisco are hard-working farmers, and Mr. Pirkl comes over to borrow a bit of money. Unfortunately, Mr. Brisco has loaned Mr. Pirkl money in the past, and it took a year for him to pay him back last time. This is a fact that Mrs. Brisco reminds him of repeatedly throughout the story, and it makes Mr. Brisco angrier and angrier when he starts visiting the Pirkl household only to find that Mr. Pirkl is never home. Will he ever see his money again, or will Mr. Pirkl ruin a friendship over a loan?
I've got to admit, when I first discovered this book, I was intrigued by a children's book about farmer pigs who get conned by some insensitive turtles. Seriously, the cover of this book is so remarkably unique that I couldn't resist the urge to find out what happens! I received it in the mail today and set the book on a chair in the living room while making breakfast, and my preteen nephew and early-teen niece saw it. Before I even knew they discovered it, the two of them got into an argument over what the word "conned" meant. The nephew had no idea at all, and the niece was smart enough to pick up the word "con" being in it and knew it meant something negative (like "pros vs cons"), but didn't really know what it meant either.
Diving into the book knowing even a 14-year-old didn't know what a word in the title meant presented me with an additional challenge. While every children's book has me wondering what age group would get the most out of it, I was stuck wondering if this was a book for children at all. Not only are there big words used, such as "conned" and even "condescendingly", the topics in the book also aren't really geared toward children either. Showing a person purposely rip off a "friend", then hiding from them whenever they come over, only for the story to end with the pigs who were conned searching for the rest of eternity for money that was owed to them in one final con isn't a great lesson. Well, unless the lesson is "don't loan people things or they'll treat you like this", in which case it's a terrific lesson to teach. Just make sure they don't pick up the "you can con people very easily once you get their trust, people are very gullible and you'll get away with it" lesson by mistake.
Then there's the issue with how the story is told. Pages have dozens of words each, and are formatted like a script, such as: "Mr. Pirkl- Hello, my good friend I see you just made it back from the farm, how did it go today? (With a smirk on his face)". The writing itself often feels drawn out, and it lacks that poetic, fun flow that great children's books have. I can also see this format creating problems reading the book aloud since merely listing the name of each speaker would get dull over time. Finally, I found a dozen errors in total, although only two would actually mess with the flow of reading the story out loud. The rest of the errors are punctuation errors or minor things like using "devices" instead of "devises" on the back cover.
The art in the book is very colorful and quite sharp, although I couldn't help but feel it could've used a bit more polish too. I did love that they were full-page images, though, and with a book that's the same size as a sheet of regular paper, that means the images are easy to view at pretty much any distance. The characters' faces are incredibly expressive as well, often to a humorous level. The turtles have very terrifically greedy faces when they see money, and Mr. Brisco has such an angry face that I expected to see steam coming out of his ears. It was also very awesome of Samuel to include so many coloring pages at the end of the book! There are 15 coloring pages in total, compared to 16 full-color images in the rest of the book (including the cover).
I have a hard time recommending Mr. Pirkl's Tale: The Briscoe's got conned, not only because it's impossible to nail down the right age group for it, but also because it could've used more polish and editing overall. Even the title could've used work; the "Mr. Pirkl's Tale" implies that this is about Mr. Pirkl, but the majority of the book is about Mr. Brisco trying to get his money back. I'd rate the book 1.5 stars if I could, but since that isn't an option, I can't bring myself to give this book the lowest possible rating. As such, my rating of the book is 2 out of 4 stars. Maybe parents who really want to warn kids about the dangers of loaning toys or money to others will still get some use out of it, just be prepared to explain some terms and apply some storytelling pizzazz!
Mr. Pirkl's Tale
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