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The Picture Book Buzz

The Barnabus Project - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Can you remember before Netflix? How about before most movies were on DVD ( or VHS)? Back when one watched whatever someone chose to air on TV, when they chose to air it. I remember my siblings and I waiting for the Rudolph movies to come back on TV around Christmas. That was always one highlight of the season. Especially, Rudolph & The Island of Misfit Toys. It always amazed us that someone could have so many toys that an imperfect one would be discarded. We'd have played with a "Charlie-in-the-Box."

Years later, my kids and I watched Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams and enjoyed imagining all the animals we'd love to shrink or combine. After all, who wouldn't want a flying pig (spork) or a turtleroo. Add in a dose of Dinotopia, and you can imagine the types of zoos we had in our house for a while.

So, when I saw the cover with this adorable miniature elephant-mouse, I was enthralled. How can one not fall in love with that face and the idea of a palm-sized elephant? As the Fan Brothers posted teasing "files" of failed projects from the book, I got more and more excited.

Boy, was it worth the wait! This stunning book is a creatively adventurous friendship story full of determination, diversity, and dreams. A story where "nothing is impossible."

The Barnabus Project

Author/Illustrators: The Fan Brothers

Publisher: Tundra Books (2020)

Ages: 3-7



Acceptance, courage, cooperation, and following your dreams.


In a world built for Perfect Pets, Barnabus is a Failed Project, half mouse, half elephant, kept out of sight until his dreams of freedom lead him and his misfit friends on a perilous adventure. A stunning picture book from international bestsellers The Fan Brothers, joined by their brother Devin Fan. Deep underground beneath Perfect Pets, where children can buy genetically engineered "perfect" creatures, there is a secret lab. Barnabus and his friends live in this lab, but none of them is perfect. They are all Failed Projects. Barnabus has never been outside his tiny bell jar, yet he dreams of one day seeing the world above ground that his pal Pip the cockroach has told him about: a world with green hills and trees, and buildings that reach all the way to the sky, lit with their own stars. But Barnabus may have to reach the outside world sooner than he thought, because the Green Rubber Suits are about to recycle all Failed Projects . . . and Barnabus doesn't want to be made into a fluffier pet with bigger eyes. He just wants to be himself. So he decides it's time for he and the others to escape. With his little trunk and a lot of cooperation and courage, Barnabus sets out to find freedom -- and a place where he and his friends can finally be accepted for who they are. This suspenseful, poignant and magical story about following your dreams and finding where you truly belong will draw readers into a surreal, lushly detailed world in which perfection really means being true to yourself and your friends.

Opening Lines:

Barnabus lived in a secret lab. He was half mouse and half elephant, and he had lived in the lab as long as he could remember.

What I LOVED about this Book:

After introducing Barnabus, the utterly adorable half mouse/half elephant who "lived in a secret lab," the book opens on a colorful, perfectly normal street - if you ignore the unusual pets out on walks and in the window display of 'Perfect Pets'.

But underneath the city lurked a lab where the store genetically engineered their "perfect pets."

© Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan, 2020.

And where they kept their projects in rows of glass jars. This was were Barnabus, Mushroom Sloth, Bumble Bear, Wally the Ripple, Quirt, Furtle, and many others lived. Entertained by Pip the cockroach's tales of shimmering lakes, grassy hills, and stars in the world above. I love the names and inventiveness of these pets. And the kids will enjoy tracking Pip throughout the story.

© Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan, 2020.

When the "Green Rubber Suits" stick a "fail" label on all the jars, Barnabus worries that "being recycled" could mean losing his friends, a taste for his favorite foods, and his dreams of seeing the stars. With the stunning, imaginative illustrations that we've come to expect from The Fan Brothers, Barnabus embarks on an adventurous mission to free himself and rescue all his friends. These scenes are full of whimsy and cooperation, set against a detailed backdrop of graduated cylinders, beakers, and lab equipment. Barnabus and his friends are all so endearing, you can't help but root for them to succeed.

Dodging their captors, by escaping through the vents, Barnabus and his friends stumble upon an enormous failed project. Refusing to leave anyone behind, their cooperative efforts not only free giant sea creature, but release a flood of water that carries them up into the store lined with boxes of "perfect" pets.

© Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan, 2020.

Then . . . spoilers! Just know the ending, which leaves the reader to determine what makes a home, is perfect.

Interspersed throughout the adventure are touching lyrical lines that stick with you. My favorite, "there were mountains that reached to the sky, lit with their own stars," adds an additional dash of whimsy to those within the illustration of this "ordinary" city skyline at sunset.

© Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan, 2020.

This book will appeal to many audiences. It's an exciting adventure, friendship story, with captivating illustrations. Yet, it also offers a wondesrful opportunity for discussing fairness, cooperation, acceptance of everyone's uniqueness, persistence, "failure," genetic manipulation, and wild animals as pet. A book that should be on every home, school, and public library shelf. It's no fluke that it received four starred reviews!


- what would your "perfect" or "failed" pet(s) look like? Make your own file(s). Draw a picture and fill out a report on your special pet(s) with these downloadable forms.

© Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan, 2020.

- build a special pet, or animal, with someone else. Take turns passing a drawing back & forth, each person adding one thing (eyes, tail, fur, teeth, etc.) at a time.

- write a description, or draw a picture, of your home or a place that is special to you.

- if you couldn't fail, draw an image, or write a story, of what you would love to be or do.

- try the Marshmallow Challenge (

If you missed it, check out my interview with Eric, Terry, and Devin Fan on Monday (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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