Ears on the Odyssey

Review: Rumple Buttercup

Feeling a little weird and rumply on the inside? If so, Sarah Hashimoto has an audio for you. Aww, Rumple!

Friendly, toe-tapping intro music sets the stage for this goofy but heartwarming story about Rumple Buttercup, a creature who lives in the sewer, ashamed of his five crooked teeth, three strands of hair, green skin, and slightly-too-big left foot. From his underground hideout, he gazes out at the town, accompanied by his not-so-lively friend, Candy Corn Carl, whom he made with chewed gum, old licorice, and discarded candy corn. All Rumple wants to do is attend the town’s Annual Pajama Jam Cotton Candy Pancake Parade, but he thinks he’s too weird. When the townspeople all seek him out and invite him to join them, he soon finds out that everyone feels a little weird and rumply on the inside.

Rumple Buttercup is one unusual book. Is it a picture book? A chapter book? A graphic novel? This book is really hard to classify, as the message of acceptance and being yourself is perfect for young readers, but the handwritten text and strange, wobbly illustrations will appeal to older readers and graphic novel fans. Whatever the case, whether picture book or chapter book or graphic novel or some combination of all three, there is no question that this a really fantastic audiobook!

Author and narrator Gubler’s unusual, somewhat cartoonish voice is a great fit for this audio, capturing Rumple’s sensibility and imbuing the whole story with a sunny warmth. The book’s illustrations are a little odd, and honestly, Rumple is a little odd, too, but through the audio, his sweet temperament is clear for all to hear. Aww, Rumple, we’re rooting for you! Gubler also does a great job with pacing, gently ramping up the excitement as Rumple begins preparing for the Pancake Parade. It’s going to be sooooo amazing!

Some picture book audiobooks really need to be listened to with the book at hand; they are listen-alongs, meant to be read and listened to at the same time. Rumple Buttercup is not a true listen-along. Honestly, you can go either way–listen along with the book, or listen to the audio on its own. The audio-only version of Rumple Buttercup is smooth and fluid, with a few additional words inserted in order to keep the flow going and bridge the gap between the illustrations and the text. You’ll find yourself imagining the pictures, and it’s just wonderful!

If you want to read the book and listen to the audio at the same time, go for it! It is definitely fun to look at the illustrations, as they are unique and oh-so rumply. With this said, I’m not sure that this audio is the best for emerging readers who are using it in order to decode words. These listeners may be a bit overwhelmed by the audio, as it moves along at quite a clip and doesn’t allow much time to savor the pictures or anticipate page-turns. An additional version with page-turn signals and more intentional pauses would be a welcome addition for these listeners.

The wonderful thing about Rumple Buttercup is that this is an audio that the whole family will enjoy. It is funny and endearing with a feel-good message, and it makes you happy every time it starts up again. Make sure to keep Rumple Buttercup around when you’re feeling out-of-sorts–it’s guaranteed to make you feel the joy of cotton candy pancakes and newfound friends!

Rumple  Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself, by Matthew Gray Gubler, read by the author. 12 minutes. Listening Library, 2019.

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