In her first picture book, Jamie Harper channels a bit of Hillary Knight: the three children in Don't Grown-Ups Ever Have Fun?, based on her own daughters, sport Eloise-inspired expressions when captured mid-mischief. But the book's narrative thrust, playful and creative, is all Harper's own, starting with the child's-view observation that adults lead draggy lives.
Throughout the book, the kids offer hilarious insights into the grown-up world. Adults "waste time sleeping . . . when there's a zillion things to do," like conduct a teddy-bear tea party amid the covers, or use the mattress as a launching pad. Grownups rush through their morning routines (Mom tries to down a cup of coffee while ensnared in a blow-dryer cord), whereas the three kids have the good sense to "take it easy" with a bubble bath. Dad wears the same clothes day after day, while cut to a dress-up session outside the parents' plundered closet "We're always changing outfits." It takes a daring remote-control intercept to disrupt the boring news and a colorizing makeover to transform Dad's drab black-and-white office. His "To Do" list, of course, is consigned to the trash.
What are grownups into, according to these kids? "Cleaning up's their favorite thing to do," notes the unnamed child narrator, with palpable disdain. When the children leap into carefully raked piles of leaves, they're merely doing their part to right the natural balance: "Why does it all have to be so perfect?" they wonder.
Luckily, a pasta dinner provides the inspiration for the put-upon parents to cut loose: they cast each other a conspiratorial glance, and before long they're wearing ziti crowns, constructing a ziti fort and slurping a shared strand of spaghetti a la Lady and the Tramp.
Don't Grown-Ups Ever Have Fun? is a playful debut that marks a talent to watch. The author's lively, subtly detailed watercolor illustrations make this a great shared read. Afterwards, though, parents will probably want to put the book aside and do something silly.