A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears
by Jules Feiffer, published 1995
“I’ve left an important question unanswered. Once Tom walked out of the book, how and why did he come back? The answer to that question is: boredom. It’s not much of a life for a character in a book to be out of the book.”
Oh, the silliness of Jules Feiffer… not only does he draw wonderfully silly illustrations, but he talks to us, the reader, as if he is writing the book as he speaks to us. This is one unique, terrific, silly, and somewhat profound children’s book.
The premise of the book seems simple enough: a prince off on a quest. However, in Feiffer’s hands, everything becomes just a little bit fantastical, out of the ordinary, and we get swept along believing every word of it…forests that never end, characters that come in and out of the book, princes turning into various animals, and most of all, laughter all along the way.
What stands out for me about this children’s book is the author’s skill in stepping into imagination, where anything is possible, and writing it in such a way that can’t fail to entertain children. And yet, the book has a lovely and profound message, as the hero, the prince, is genuinely transformed into a caring and faithful friend. It’s sort of a book about finding balance…learning to be not too serious, not too silly, but loving all aspects of life. Terrific children’s book, for any age child. You could read it out loud to younger ones, and older kids will get all the jokes on their own.