Robert Munsch weathered some very public difficulties in the past year. Given the amount of goodwill he has generated over the course of his career, it would be wonderful to find his new book a triumphant return to form. However, though it shares most of the traits of the best Munsch-Martchenko collaborations, Too Much Stuff! is not a particularly remarkable or graceful entry. Indeed, it often edges to close to self-parody.
The best Munsch-Martchenko books are structured like short films from the days of silent comedy: a simple set-up is played out for all its comic and absurd possibilties, then ends amusingly. Nothing much gets learned: we’re in it for the fun.
In Too Much Stuff!, young Temina is going on a plane to see her Grandma, and though she is warned not to, she crams her backpack with just about every toy and doll she owns. The backpack explodes on the plane, sending toys everywhere – which turns out to be a good thing, as there are kids from all over the world onboard who could use a good toy at just that moment.
For better or worse, Munsch’s stuff is meant to be read aloud, not savoured quietly. (Which is why most young kids love it.) All the same, the repetitiveness and narrative slightness reach absurd extremes here. (Two early, text-heavy pages differ only in the substitution of “dolls” for “toys.”) Plus, the story is so loose and meandering as to seem as though Munsch is just telling it off the top of his head. Even at his most anarchic, Munsch is usually better at making the action seem inevitable.
Michael Martchenko’s images are always dynamic and fun, but they seem to be working too hard here to bring manic energy to a listless narrative. Some of the visual details (that Temina’s mother is in the military, for example), feel disconnected from the story.
While Too Much Stuff! is no drag, it is a lot less fun than it could have been.
MICHAEL MARTCHENKO's illustrations are as instantly identifiable and loveable as Robert Munsch's stories. His wild and colourful pictures add depth and even more hilarity to these picture book tales. He received the CBA Children's Illustrator of the Year Libris Award in 2006. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.