Comedy gold often lies in the tension between the subdued and the slapstick. Soaked!, Abi Cushman's terribly amusing picture book debut, hits that sweet spot: her low-energy bear narrator's grousing is jubilantly offset by illustrations spiked with broad humor.
It's raining, and "everything is dreary.... And no one is happy," complains the bear. That "no one" includes the bear's fellow creatures: a badger, a rabbit and a hula-hooping moose. "What's that you say?" the bear asks rhetorically at one point. "Why don't we just go inside my cave until the rain stops?" But the moose tags along and claims all the indoor space with its multiple twirling hoops. Forced back outside, the bear is sulking on a log when the moose loses one of its hoops to a tree branch. The bear, badger and rabbit stack themselves like soup cans and retrieve it, after which they fall into a giant puddle, the hoop a pink and green garland around the bear's neck. Following some prodding, the bear gives hula-hooping a whirl. What was initially a half-hearted effort becomes a euphoric display that outlasts the rain. While Soaked! is a try-it-you'll-like-it book, expect the bear's last words to cloud the sunny atmosphere.
Cushman achieves her high-contrast approach to comedy by juxtaposing the bear's galumphing body language and earth-toned environment with the moose's athletic posturing, its colorful hoops blazing like costume jewelry. Doing good supporting work are the badger and the rabbit, who, sharp-eyed readers will note, pilfer a couple of the oblivious bear's belongings. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author