Picture Book Spotlight: “Could Be Worse!”

“Could Be Worse!” by James Stevenson
Published: Greenwillow Books, 1977
Pages: 32
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People who have seen hard times are tough to impress. In “Could Be Worse!” by James Stevenson, two kids can’t seem to get their grandfather to offer them any sympathy. No trying, troublesome, gut-wrenching day can get any comment out of him other than, “Could be worse.”

“Get back to me after you’ve served in World War II.”

Nothing upsets Grandpa’s apple cart, not even when the dog makes a mess.

This rug is so 1970s, it’s practically camouflage.

Stevenson was a prolific children’s book author and New Yorker cartoonist, and his illustrations anticipate the trend in modern books of using panels to convey multiple events on the same page. His approach draws from comics to show cause and effect, changes in expression, and sound effects.

New Yorker cartoonists love being compared to comic book artists. I recommend doing this often.

My daughter was resistant to pulling this book on the shelf, possibly because of the sketchy drawings, elderly featured character and muted color palette, but she changed her mind. She laughed harder and louder as the grandfather’s adventures grew progressively more outlandish. It surprised her, and I loved seeing her giggle.

“Could Be Worse!” has the highest number of reviews on GoodReads I’ve seen for one of my childhood books, and that’s a testament to its timeless humor. I recommend joining the many other readers who mentioned ordering a copy as an adult; you might be surprised at your child’s joyful reaction.

Author of Strawberry Shortcake: Return of the Purple Pie Man, Disney’s Frozen Comic Collection, Transformers: Robots in Disguise Animated and Littlest Pet Shop: Open for Business. She’s written for IDW Publishing, Hasbro, Lion Forge, American Greetings and Scholastic, and her work has been discussed in Comics Beat and The Washington Post. Subscribe to the newsletter

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