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Book Review: Mo Smells Red – A Scentsational Journey by Margaret Hyde

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Remember the scratch and sniff phenomenon that was at its peak in the ‘80s? Little girls like me collected stickers that we carefully placed in photo albums and books were printed with special scratch and sniff pictures that wore thin from repeated scrubbings by little fingernails. I’m happy to announce that scented books are back in a new, long-lasting, non-toxic form that incorporates essential oils that last for thousands of uses.

The first in a planned series of children’s titles featuring a real life rescue dog, Mo Smells Red follows the simple adventures of a dog that can actually smell colour. Limited to a monochromatic world — rendered by the zen, minimalist ink and brush illustration of his owner Amanda Giacomini – Mo’s highly developed sense of smell is able to detect and interpret colour. The pages of Mo Smells Red are illustrated in a simple palette to represent Mo’s visual limitations, accented by the bright, vibrant red that he sniffs out in his journey.

Mo moves from page to page, many of which are die cut to add visual interest, coming across various expressions of the scent of red: a strawberry, a bunch of roses, a camp fire and finally, love (smells like chocolate – yummy). Reportedly good for 50,000 uses, my children haven’t yet exhausted the store of scent included in the Press 2 Smell capsules enclosed within the book.

I thankfully recalled their non-toxic properties as my two-year-old joyfully licked the sweetly scented back cover. Applying pressure to the hidden capsules releases a burst of scent through the tiny holes in the overlying image. This is a winning concept, and the execution works wonderfully. No longer will the scent be scratched off early in the book’s life and it will be safe for licking toddlers everywhere!

Author Margaret Hyde’s simple text is eminently quotable with slogan-like phrases that my five-year-old chants repetitively while we read. “Mo smells RED!” “Let your nose go where Mo’s nose goes…” “Don’t let your nose get too close.”

An experienced children’s author, Hyde sought a recreation of her childhood memories of scratch and sniff, but lacked a story to carry the message. A middle-of-the-night inspiration jolted her from bed as she recalled her childhood friend’s precious pooch, Mo. Long time friends Hyde and Giacomini were about to embark upon their first creative collaboration.

A strong sense of social involvement and environmental responsibility surround Mo’s Nose. A percentage of the proceeds are going to Best Friends Animal Society. Mo’s very own line of merchandise and apparel features organic, recycled, and American-made items. Remember hyper-colour t-shirts? The craze, the must-have-it syndrome? Mo’s scratch and sniff t-shirts for children have the same potential in my estimation. Who wouldn’t want a scratch and sniff t-shirt? Sadly, Mo’s shirts for adults are unscented, as are the dog shirts made from reclaimed cotton and recycled plastic.

A Mo Smells Fun Kit is also available that includes a recycled paper notebook, pocket folder, scratch and sniff strawberry bookmark, five scratch and sniff sticker sheets (mmm, smells like coconut), and two pencils made from recycled newspapers and topped with scented strawberry erasers. Everything comes in an organic cotton tote, all with original Mo’s Nose artwork.

The second release in the Mo’s Nose series is scheduled for Earth Day 2009 and will feature Mo’s sniffing out the colour green. Hyde and Giacomini take their stewardship responsibilities seriously (they’re from California).

With high levels of approval from adults and children alike in our home, and a mass-appeal concept, only one shadow appears for Mo. The copy of Mo Smells Red that I received includes a full duplicate page, resulting in four duplicate pages. In a picture book, such a mistake is disastrous to story flow. Parents will need to remove this additional page manually if it appears throughout the first edition’s print run.

If you loved scratch and sniff, your children will love Press 2 Smell. Mo is certainly worth checking out. The novelty angle alone makes it a worthwhile addition to your child’s bookshelf. Do stop by the Mo’s Nose website. There are some fun, hidden interactive features there for children. You can also find all of Mo’s scented merchandise in the online store.

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About Jennifer Bogart