Tuesday, February 21, 2012

NOTHING LIKE A PUFFIN

Written by Sue Soltis

Illustrated by Bob Kolar

(Candlewick Press, 2011)

Dogs, cats, men, women, Mars, Venus, animal, vegetable, mineral...we spend much of our time categorizing and pointing out the differences in objects and beings. As the title suggests, Nothing Like a Puffin begins this way. A ladder is nothing like a puffin. Neither is a house.

But then the lines start to blur. A newspaper cannot be like a puffin. Hey, wait! Both are black and white. Sue Soltis strikes a wry, conversational tone as her text gasps, “What are the chances? A newspaper is something like a puffin, after all.” Golly, gee!

Well, that must have been an odd blip. There are always exceptions. But, really, aside from a newspaper, there is nothing like a puffin. Hey, wait! (Again?) Yes, as the puffin drifts from page to page, it turns out that commonalities can be drawn between puffins and all kinds of things. Shucks. Maybe a puffin isn’t special at all. Or, ahem, maybe it is.

Gosh, how utterly confusing! Reminds me of the first time I had to complete a Venn diagram or the first time I read fiery pro and con letters to the editor about Canada’s policy of multiculturalism. Of course, Soltis and Kolar make the examination of similarities and differences so much more fun. I can smile, even laugh, and totally avoid the bottle of Tylenol.

Bob Kolar’s digital illustrations are vibrant and cheerful with many of the images reminding me of the cut-out art of Henri Matisse. Yes, the clouds, the puffin’s wings and even its tail are just like Matisse’s cut-out creations. But wait! The ladder and the human figures are nothing like Matisse’s cut-outs. Well, they are brightly colored, too. Similarities, differences,...it’s all a matter of degree.

It just dawned on me that apples and oranges may also have more in common than what distinguishes them. Wow. I feel another headache coming on. Let me just back up, dive back into Nothing Like a Puffin and enjoy it for its considerable entertainment value.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

LET'S DO NOTHING!


By Tony Fucile

(Candlewick Press, 2009)

Bored. So bored.

Maybe it’s pouring rain on the day you’d planned to dig a hole to China. Maybe it’s dinnertime and you’re stuck at the table as Uncle Howard and Aunt Beatrice provide every detail about their visit to DoilyWood. (Please tell me there is no such place.) Maybe you’re stuck with your mom in a shoe store as she narrows things down to forty-six pairs of black high heels she’d like to try on to go with the black dress she finally picked on this same never-ending shopping excursion.

Yep. We’ve all been there. Bored.

Nothing to do. Doing nothing.

It’s all out of our control.

But author/illustrator Tony Fucile adds a twist. What if we take control and actually try to do nothing?

Frankie and Sal are best buds who embark on a quest for the zen of true nothingness. Sal’s the director. He sets the scene. Frankie is the well-intentioned boy whose overactive imagination sabotages nothing (or everything).

First up, Sal suggests they sit like statues in a park. Sit. Sit. Not a sound. Sit. Not a movement. Sit. Doing nothing is easy! But then Frankie envisions pigeons at the park, scanning the ground for worms, seeds and melting clomps from roadkill ice cream cones. (Okay, some of that arises from my imagination.) One at a time, the birds perch on one of the statues. Statue Frankie, naturally. Soon Frankie is covered by flapping, fluttering birds. How can anyone stand it?!

Ahhhh! Shoo!

Oops. Frankie did something.

Sal, of course, decides upon another scenario. And Frankie, of course, gamely joins in. Nothing happens. Until, of course, something happens.

Tony Fucile, a Disney animator, creates memorable images of the two main characters. Frankie, in particular, is endearingly drawn with a Barney Rubble tuft of blond hair, a too snug, too short shirt and prominent spectacles. The layout is also refreshing as the story begins immediately. No need to flip past a title page. That feature appears only after the text and pictures build up to Sal’s grand idea: “Let’s Do Nothing!”

This is an incredibly amusing book that everyone who has ever failed at The Silent Game will totally relate to. We like Sal and his creative scene-setting ideas, but Frankie steals the show. (Oh, and maybe Sal’s tiny dog who tunes out the boys and demonstrates what doing nothing is all about.)

Simple, yet brilliant concept. Add Fucile to the list of children’s book creators of whom I am absolutely envious.

Monday, February 13, 2012

ME HUNGRY!



By Jeremy Tankard

(Candlewick Press, 2008)

Roar!

Grr!

Sometimes when me hungry me act like caveman. Me want food. Me want food now!

Yes, Jeremy Tankard’s amusing picture book captures the primeval instincts that surface when the stomach churns. Caveboy Edwin (yes, Edwin) announces to his preoccupied parents, “Me hungry!” They each respond, “Me busy!” And so the caveboy sets off on his own hunting mission. Not sure that rabbits and porcupines were around in prehistoric times, but this book is not about factual authenticity. It’s a tasty reading snack, not to be intensely analyzed.

Tankard uses ink and digital media to create simple images with barren, monochromatic backgrounds which I assume are intended to set a primitive tone.

Told in simple one-, two- and three-word sentence chunks befitting cavemen, young readers will delight in repeating the phrases. Parents may, however, have to caution their children when heading to grandma’s for Sunday dinner. Bold statements like “Me hungry!” may come off as utterly barbaric in certain settings.

Cautionary remarks aside, me like Me Hungry!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

TREE RING CIRCUS



By Adam Rex

(Harcourt Books, 2006)

What a difference an ‘H’ makes. Yes, there is no typo in the title. This is a story about a Tree Ring Circus.

It all starts simply enough: “One seed in the ground, three miles out of town.” The seed grows into a massive tree with twisty, knotty limbs and a few last-stand leaves hanging on in autumn. Suddenly the tree becomes a resting place for nearby animals. “3 chipmunks, 2 sparrows, a whopping big bee all live in the tree where the seed used to be.” Whopping big is an understatement. The buzzer is twice the size of the chipmunks and sparrows. Still, there is plenty of room for each critter to settle in.

But more forest animals climb aboard. Along with a clown (as clowns are want to do). More animals, including “a cat who climbed up but can’t find her way down”.

As the type and number of animals are introduced, readers can enjoy a Where’s Waldo accounting of all creatures in the tree. It is also fun to flip back and forth to follow the movement and expressions of each animal. The chicken is rather stoic and sedentary, but I found great amusement in watching the cat take in all the changes.

And the changes become bigger and more startling as a traveling circus stops to search for an escaped clown. I shall not reveal more of the story other than to say the clown is something of a circus trendsetter.

No doubt, this book will produce giggles and gasps as the tree becomes a more popular abode. Tree Ring Circus is first and foremost a delightful source of entertainment. Still, Adam Rex makes a statement about circus animals. A class or a family could go much deeper in exploring the issue. Even better, connect this book with Rex’s zoo-based Pssst! to lead to a bigger discussion about animals in captivity.

I am so thankful Adam Rex turfed the ‘H’!