Mary Had A Little Lamp, written by Jack Lechner and illustrated by Bob Staake, is simply hilarious. Told in rhyming verses, this picture book turns the classic "Mary had a little lamb" into modern, kid-friendly humor. Young Mary has a goose-necked desk lamp which she takes everywhere. She drags it behind her by the cord as she walks down the sidewalk. She gives it rides on the swings, and tries to guide it down the slide. She is wholly unabashed by her unusual companion. Her parents and the doctor that they take her to (a doctor with a couch for her to lie one) can't figure it out. But Mary is blithely unconcerned. Until one summer when she goes off to camp, and leaves her lamp behind. Is she growing up? Has she abandoned her quirky habits. Not to worry - Mary remains unique to the end.
Every page of this book is a rhyming couplet, though some of the rhymes are somewhat unconventional. Here are a couple of examples, to give you a flavor for the book:
"She took the lamp to school one day
To teach it how to spell --
But when she tried to plug it in,
The teacher tripped and fell."
"The doctor said, "I've never seen
So puzzling a condition,
But lamps are not my specialty --
You need an electrician."
How fun are these couplets going to be to read aloud with kids? They strike just the right note of rhythm and humor. This is a book that, as soon as I had finished it, I wanted to read it again. I can totally picture kids walking around quoting from it, in sing-song voices.
Bob Staake's illustrations border on the abstract, and capture perfectly Mary's unconventional nature. Mary is drawn (created digitally in Photoshop) with a huge head, enormous round eyes, and a torso and legs that are straight-sided cylinders. The lamp somehow manages to look vaguely alive, like something out of a Pixar film. Mary's teacher has a round bun sticking out of the top of her head that looks like a ball of yarn. Her baffled parents are oval-faced, with red and purple coloring, conveying their frustration and bewilderment. Everything is exaggerated and unexpected, a combination of computer-generated geometric shapes, 3-dimensional-looking textures, and people seen as though through a fun-house mirror.
There are tiny gems of humor hidden deep within the pictures, such as the sign for "Camp Wottalottaphun", and the sneers on the faces of Mary's cousin Debbie and her groom. There's even a faint South Park echo to the illustrations of Mary's classmates. I think that these illustrations will make the book appealing to slightly older kids, kids who might otherwise think themselves too old for a picture book told in verse.
Mary Had A Little Lamp will be available on April 1st, and it's definitely one to keep an eye out for. I think it would make a wonderful read-aloud title, for classroom or library. Parents of preschoolers will want a copy for home, too, because Mary Had a Little Lamp has the potential to stand up to repeat readings. Highly recommended.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.