PJ Boy vs. The Evil Vacuum is the first in a planned series of books titled The Bedtime Adventures of Pajama Boy by Ebony and A. Mack.
In this first installment (spoilers are coming, so don’t let your toddler read over your shoulder), we meet Jack AKA PJ Boy and his family – Mommy, Daddy, and Kobie AKA Super Pup. Jack is a mild-mannered kid by day, but when night falls and dons his favorite pajamas he transforms into Pajama Boy!
As the title suggests, Pajama Boy meets the vacuum, Mr. Vroomberg and antics ensue. The antics being that after his parents put him to bed, he gets back up, sneaks into the living room to do battle with the vacuum who, as fate would have it, is a totally decent fellow.
When I first looked at the book, I was distracted by the pictures (which are pictures and not illustrations). They seem to be snapshots with a filter applied to them (cartoon, perhaps?).
Which is not inherently a bad thing, but in this instance the book reads as though the story was retrofitted to available photos, so there are moments when I know my kids would lose interest because nothing is happening and/or nothing is designed to be visually appealing to a child. For example, the opening shot of the book is of a house with a car parked outside – and nothing else really except for the text: “It was a beautiful day at the little ranch house. It seemed to be a day like any other.”
And maybe the entirety of why I didn’t love this book can be traced back to that word: design. Because these seem to be family photos or at least staged photos in someone’s home, it appears that a huge amount of thought wasn’t put into the details. The cartoonizing effect leaves all the distracting home-y elements in sight – miscellaneous rugs, humidifiers, heating vents, couches, and chotskies on shelves. The photos weren’t purposefully composed and so don’t enhance the story the way they should.
The best illustration in the book, then, is when Pajama Boy (and Super Pup) run down the hallway to start their mission. PJ Boy is front and center and all the lines are drawing the eye to him and then, past him, to his destination. The distractions (the light fixture and other ceiling details) are minimal and the text forwards the plot.
My other complaint about the illustrations is tied to the above picture. Here, for the book to feel more professional, it would have been great to see either this fade-to-white effect or a bleed-to-edges throughout.
That said, this is the first in the series and I’m hopeful that the Macks visual style is evolving. I’m interested to see what they do in the next adventure.
Buuuut, while I support PoC-owned businesses, I’m not sure I can buy this for my kids because Jack AKA Pajama Boy spends most of the book awake at night wondering around his house when he’s supposed to be asleep. I can’t afford for my kids to realize that that’s an option.
For me this felt like a missed opportunity to model talking through fears with an authority figure; he doesn’t ask his parents about the vacuum at all. And while, the immense world of children’s imagination (and literature) leaves ample room for pretend adventures, in my house, those adventures can’t be happening at 3am.
And I definitely don’t think every book has to be a teachable moment, but the authors write that the PJ Boy series “is designed to help children face their fears, overcome those fears, and to become more confident.” For me, as a parent and book nerd, this doesn’t do that… yet. He doesn’t ask questions. Or engage with his caregivers. Or have a reason to change his mind about the vacuum.
Hopefully, in the forthcoming sophomore effort, the Macks – and PJ Boy – offer the wee ones a more substantial adversary and “battle.”