Somehow I missed Kevin Hawkes' The Wicked Big Toddlah, though I'm not sure how it escaped my attention. When the sequel, The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York, arrived on my doorstep, it went straight to the top of my reading stack. Because really, how could anyone raised in New England resist a book about a wicked big toddlah? (Note the Maine accent on "toddlah". Note the use of the word "wicked" for emphasis.)
The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York finds Toddie, a super-sized toddler, visiting New York City with his parents. They visit Yankee Stadium, ride a train, and visit Staten Island. Toddie is separated from his parents for a time, but makes friends with a group of children and dogs, and even visits FAO Schwartz. When it's time to come home, he takes a very big souvenir along with him. Toddlers rarely have a strong grasp of what is and isn't theirs, after all.
There are two running jokes with this book. The first is the super-sized Toddie, who acts like a classic toddler, and whose family treats him as though he's any old regular kid. They even manage to misplace him, despite his enormous size. This humor will appeal to kids (and parents) everywhere. The second theme is Hawkes' poking fun, with affection, at Toddie and his parents' Maine background. Anyone who has ever been to Maine, or even to Boston, will smile when Toddie says "STAAAHS!" or "HOMAAH!!", or when his dad says "Ayuh". The two jokes actually work together, because it's very Maine to be low-key about your child, even if said child is 50+ feet tall.
Examples are on every page. When the family first arrives in New York:
"Whoa! This place is busier than Rupert's Bait Shop on Memorial Day weekend!" said Pa.
Toddie stared at all the cars honking their horns. He looked at the crowds. Then he looked up, and up, and up!
"WICKED BIG!" he whispered.
"You'd better hold on to me," Ma hollered. "We don't want to lose you in this crowd."
After Toddie has been off playing with other kids for a while, lost, we have:
"Meanwhile, Ma and Pa were busy snapping pictures.
Let's get a photo of you and Toddie at the Brooklyn Bridge," suggested Pa.
"Toddie!" said Ma. "I thought you had him."
"I thought you had him," said Pa.
"Leapin' lobstahs!! Where's Toddie!?!?!?"
The accents make this a book that cries out to be read aloud. It would also be great for storytime. Hawkes has illustrated a number of other picture books, and his experience shows. The illustrations in The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York are India ink, charcoal, and acrylic. They are bright and exuberant, with Toddie practically leaping from every page. Despite Toddie's large size, the illustrations feature lots of small details, too, like a tiny baseball in Toddie's palm. My favorite picture shows Toddie's parents nestled in his pocket as he sleeps sitting up on the roof of a building, back against a taller building, the moon shining down on the family from Maine.
In many places, the pictures are needed to tell the full story. For instance, the text says that "They took the Staten Island Ferry". We learn from the picture that "took" refers to Toddie picking the ferry up and wading across to Staten Island. Hilarious, on multiple levels.
The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York is a delight from start to finish. I can't wait until Baby Bookworm is old enough to appreciate it. Meanwhile, I've already started giving The Wicked Big Toddlah as a baby gift to friends (sight unseen, though I do want to get a copy for us one of these days). Funny, witty, and delightfully illustrated. The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York has my highest recommendation.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: April 5, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.