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The Bad Mood and the Stick

by Lemony Snicket; Matthew Forsythe (ill.)

It all starts with a very grumpy girl named Curly, who finds a stick lying on the ground. Curly has the great misfortune of walking by an ice cream store without getting any ice cream and her ensuing bad mood manifests as a dour-faced, invasive cloud above her head. This angry little cumulus motivates Curly to pick up the stick and take out her frustration by poking her little brother. The bad-mood cloud then floats off to infect someone else and the stick lies ready for another adventure.

Negative feelings can be difficult to explain to young children. The roving cloud is made up of a rainbow of colours, illustrating how grumpiness can be a combination of emotions. It’s a somewhat predictable choice. But this is a Lemony Snicket book – and he never goes with the predictable choice. What is seemingly a run-of-the-mill concept about feelings reveals itself to be a story of the random and inevitable interconnectedness of all things; it begins with a grumpy girl and ends with a raccoon crying happy tears at a park while attending a wedding.

Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) has worked with tremendous artistic talents on his picture books, including Jon Klassen, Maira Kalman, and Lisa Brown. Montreal illustrator Matthew Forsythe is more than worthy of joining this roster and executing what is Snicket’s sweetest picture book to date. Forsythe evokes a retro comfiness in his sun-bleached, slightly weathered colour palette that gives the feeling of an old, beloved favourite. His human characters have facial expressions that resemble classic Fisher-Price figurines and the bad-mood cloud’s expressive eyebrows are reminiscent of No Heart from the 1980s Care Bears cartoon. But Forsythe also keeps things lively and modern with his effective use of white space and unexpected perspectives for what would otherwise be straightforward spreads.

The final pages bring satisfying, uplifting endings for both the bad-mood cloud and the stick, proving that Snicket can do happily ever after just as well as his signature snarky satire