It’s positively postmodern: Jeff Mack’s inventive new offering, The Things I Can Do, is a book about a book that takes a close look at the nature of creation, kid-style. Jeff, the story’s narrator, is a spunky little boy who’s taking giant steps, and who’s pleased as punch at his own progress. So pleased, in fact, that he fashions a wrinkled, crinkled, taped-together book to catalogue his accomplishments.
Using crafty odds and ends like stickers, crayons, duct tape and construction paper, Jeff assembles a series of a delightfully rag-tag pages that depict his points of pride—the milestones of little-boy life: He makes his own lunch (almost certainly without parental consent, since the meal consists, suspiciously, of pizza, fries and ice cream)—a colorful jumble of junk food rendered in collage atop a soiled napkin. He takes a bath, the bubbles of which appear to be paper circles salvaged from a hole-punch, and ties his shoe—a construction-paper sneaker, with a chaos of real laces, that’s stuck in a blue wad of gum.
Mack does a brilliant job of channeling a child’s imaginative mentality. Instead of a formal font, he uses clumsy kid handwriting to tell Jeff’s story, and practically all of the drawings are done stick-figure style. The book brims with ingenious details—visual minutiae that bring the story to life. There’s a set of improvised shelves constructed from Popsicle sticks (yes, Jeff puts away his books!), and a toothpaste mustache fashioned from cotton (and he brushes his teeth!). Scraps of newspaper, cardboard and cut-out shapes result in pages that call attention to the creative genius that all children possess.
Through this delightful mash-up of materials, Mack, who wrote and illustrated Hush Little Polar Bear and Clueless McGee, tells the story of an independent and resourceful little boy who savors his newfound responsibilities. As an inspiration for little ones who are learning to set and achieve small goals, Jeff cuts an exemplary figure (lunch selections excepted, of course). Readers of all ages will admire his oomph.