By Peter Brown
(Little, Brown and Company, 2010)
Some titles hook you; some don’t. Building, an amazing book, doesn’t reel you in. I’d Really Like to Eat a Child and Children Make Terrible Pets are more intriguingly named. Peter Brown’s cover image also entices. A goofy looking bear wearing a tutu and a ribbon atop her head projects heart-shaped thoughts as she lifts a bewildered boy from the ground. Huh? How can you pass up a read?
The story is just what the cover suggests. It begins with Lucy the bear “practicing her twirls” in the forest. She senses she is being watched. A squeak comes from behind a nearby bush. Why, it’s a child! How precious! “You are the cutest critter in the WHOLE forest!” exclaims Lucy.
Lucy must have this squeaky child for her pet. She lugs it home and begs Mama Bear to let her keep it. The pitch works! Lucy and Squeak Boy immediately bond. Oh, what a perfect pet!
Except pets never are truly perfect. In fact, pets that don’t want to be pets can be quite problematic. This pet proves to be all too human. And one day, Squeak Boy disappears.
Now that he’s gone, Lucy wants him more than ever. Why, oh, why would he leave? Where, oh where could he have gone?
Peter Brown’s book design is unique, illustrations laid atop wood grain backgrounds and text narration and speech bubbles printed on cut out construction paper. While I appreciate the thought that went into the visuals, the muted colors and brown or cream-colored backgrounds are unlikely to be as memorable as the story for young book browsers.
When reading the story, be sure to also read Brown’s comment on the back flap of the book jacket: “When I was a child, I once found a frog in the woods and brought it home to be my pet. My mom was not happy. ‘Would you like it if a wild animal made YOU its pet?’ she asked. To which I replied, ‘Absolutely!’” Yes, it’s a fanciful notion, but not so practical. As silly as the story is, readers should be able to make connections to their own lives. Lucy’s realization that “some critters just aren’t meant to be pets” should trigger ample discussion. Who hasn’t transformed a recyclable margarine tub into an insect biome, thoughtfully laying down a collection of leaves and twigs and poking plenty of holes in the plastic lid to ensure the captive bugs are living in what we consider to be comfort? Should we scoop up snails and ladybugs to satisfy our fleeting scientific minds? Why can’t nature be observed in nature? How many of us have delighted in gazing at pacing tigers and well-trained dolphins at zoos and sea parks? Are animals better off in the wild or in captivity? Oh, so much to think about, all stemming from a forest-dwelling bear that wears a tutu!
Peter Brown’s book leaves one lingering question: If children make terrible pets, what creatures make good pets?