Three Picture Books that Will Confound Expectations (a mystery, a sick chicken, and an imprudent egg)
August 20, 2009
Today, for your picture book viewing pleasure, I share mini-reviews of three books that may confound your children's expectations. In any event, they are likely to induce giggles.
John Stadler likes to write books that play with kids' expectations. I previously reviewed Big and Little, the ending of which took me by surprise. In Wilson and Miss Lovely: A Back-to-School Mystery (Robin Corey Books), Wilson is so excited by his first week of school, and his admiration for his teacher, Miss Lovely, that he leaps out of bed, and heads to school early, before his family even gets up. To his surprise, no one else is there. But he gamely follows Miss Lovely's routines, reading, doing science, and even having a lonely gym class. Meanwhile, however, a second dimension to Wilson's story is going on behind hidden page flaps. Yes, "not so very far away, something else could seen quite clearly. Closer, closer, and closer it came!" Eventually, the hidden green monster starts creeping further into Wilson's story. Will Wilson find Miss Lovely? Or will he be eaten by the monster? Only brave readers will learn the answer (though their parents might have suspicions along the way). Stadler's comic strip-like illustrations are simple and eye-catching. Wilson, in his yellow raincoat and suspenders, is priceless. Wilson and Miss Lovely is more of an early reader than a picture book, with a simple vocabulary, and short sentences. I think that it will be good for read-aloud, or for new readers to enjoy themselves. It would pair well with Tim Egan's Dodsworth series (The Pink Refrigerator, Dodsworth in New York, and Dodsworth in Paris). A fun choice!
Chicken Soup, written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by David Gavril (Abrams Books for Young Readers) is another fun story of confounded expectations, though aimed at slightly younger children. The word is out among the farm animals that "MRS. FARMER HAS TAKEN OUT THE BIG POT!... She's making CHICKEN SOUP!" All of the chickens scatter. The youngest chick has difficulty running, however, because she has a cold in her beak. And she finds it difficult to hide, too, because she keeps on sneezing. Meanwhile, Mr. Farmer keeps getting closer and closer... Not to worry, though. The book has an happy ending. Chicken Soup is a great choice for preschoolers, with fun words like "skedaddled", dramatic sounds like "CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP", and puns like "Better get MOO-VING!" (from a cow). There's also plenty of suspense - I can imagine kids squealing. Gavril's pen, pencil, and water color illustrations are also great for younger kids, with large images of animals, with worried expressions, and traditional farm backgrounds. There's a lovely spread near the end of the book, when Little Chickie lands in a bed of varied flowers. And Chickie herself is adorable. This one would make a great library storytime read-aloud.
Mini Grey has written a variety of quirky picture books, including the fan-favorite The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon (Betsy from A Fuse #8 Production liked it, anyway). In her new book, Egg Drop (Alfred A. Knopf), Grey tells the story of a little "Egg that wanted to fly." It's a bit of a cautionary tale, because, as it turns out, flying isn't such a great choice for eggs (landing being the problem). But Egg Drop is a lot of fun along the way. The Egg dreams of ways to fly, turning itself into a blimp, growing wings, etc. "But the Egg was young. It didn't much about flying (and it didn't know anything about aerodynamics or Bernoulli's principle)." So, it climbs a big set of stairs (fabulous illustration of the sweaty but determined Egg, some 300 steps up), and steps into space. You'll have to read to see what happens next. What makes this book work is the combination of mournful tone and varied illustration. There are sketches showing how Bernoulli's principle works, set against images of an open-mouthed flying egg. There are collage elements in the illustrations, mixed with sketches. And somehow, it all works. In truth, I think that kids will go either way with this one. Many will love it, even as some might not "get it". But it's well worth a try!