Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rather Dismal Picture Books (and Two Fantastic Ones!)

*note* I edited the title because I do have two books in here that I really love and that are not at all dismal.  I need something in large, friendly letters that says "Don't Panic."

I am a harsh critic of picture books--what our library calls "easy" books.  I like my picture books snarky and funny and maybe a teensy bit dark.  As you can imagine, this doesn't jive particularly well with my preschool storytime group, although I can make some of my favorites work.  This Is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back are big hits with my group; maybe they are as twisted as I am.  I don't know.

It's always exciting when I see a fresh crop of picture books on our new book shelves.  Their new labels are still bright blue and firmly attached to the spine, instead of limply curling away from the book in a sort of gasping desperation to be free.  They've not yet encountered as many pathogens as their older brothers and sisters.  Sometimes, they even make that special creaky noise when you open them for the first time.  It's glorious.

Yet, as with all things, new does not equal good.  Out of the several books I read today, I really only liked one. 

The winner of my affections:

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera.

I pretty much love anything Jane Cabrera does, and this would be so much fun to do in a storytime.  Kids love making animal noises (duh!) and the louder the better!  Plus, it's a song most kids know, so this is definitely going into my rotation.  Plus, I love how she gives the animals rosy cheeks.  Awwwww.

The others:

The Very Tiny Baby by Sylvie Kantorovitz

This is a picture book about dealing with the premature birth of a sibling.  It's a pretty specific topic, and there are some good facts in here (like the page about nursing and pumping breast milk).  Unfortunately, the author included ideas that made me squirm.  The brother of the very tiny baby is three years old.  When he finds out that the baby is early and has to stay at the hospital, he starts to worry about different things.  One of them is, "What if the baby dies?" and there is a picture of a tiny baby with x's for eyes.  First of all, that picture was really not appropriate.  Second of all, how many three year olds think that?  Death is a hard topic for kids to comprehend, and it's implied that Grandma worries that the baby will die, and the little boy picks up on that.  That is not something you want a little kid to worry about.

Another page, where the boy expresses his frustration with his parents' preoccupation with the new baby, he says that he wishes the baby would die.  The page is black.  It was a scary thought.  I mean, yeah, those of us with siblings have probably all thought that in spite at one point or another, but for someone at the age of the main character, they would probably think that if anything happened to the baby, it was because they had wished it.  The power of magical thinking is still strong with the young.

I also wish that the author had given a name to the "very tiny baby," since calling the baby "it" dehumanizes the child.  I do understand, though, that children are meant to be able to project their own experiences into the story.  Overall, I would really hesitate to recommend this to anyone.

Next up: Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett

Gravett's last book, Again!, played with the one-more-story-pleeeeeease dilemma by introducing dragons into the mix!  It's a lot of fun to do at storytime.  I expected that same inventiveness from Matilda's Cat, but it was pretty, well, boring.  I mean, I'm sure other people will and do like it.  It's got a very repetitive structure and the ending is kind of like, "Huh, well, why?  Matilda practically tortures that poor cat."

Finally:  Yellow Is My Color Star by Jane Horacek.

Horacek's pretty famous for doing the illustrations to Mem Fox's Where Is the Green Sheep?, which
my preschoolers think is THE MOST HILARIOUS BOOK EVER! (me: *shrug*).  She likes color, obviously.  The first thing that turned me off is the rhymed text.  Sometimes rhyming text works well, but here, it feels forced.  Then, we go through "all" the colors, but not black or brown, as if those aren't legitimate colors.  The main character explores other colors alone at first, and then other children join her.  These children are of different ethnicities, which is made painfully obvious by the color choices for their skin.  The child of Asian descent has yellow (yes! I kid you not!) skin and slanted lines for eyes.  I wanted to cry.  There's an African-American child, and then a child who is quite, well, black.  I mean that Horacek just used black to color in this child.  It's really jarring.

There are a lot of better color-related concept books out there. 

Oh!  To end on a high note (pun fully intended with this title), I finally got my greedy paws on Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon, and it was sublime. 

3 comments:

  1. Geez, you had me worried after I saw your heading - phew! Sublime is a nice word. Thank you : )

    Best, Gus Gordon
    https://www.facebook.com/GusGordonbooks

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  2. As I said, I'm a bit twisted. Sorry I gave you a (healthy?) dash of panic. It really was just lovely and made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

    Thanks!

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  3. Thank you. That's very nice of you to say. But yeah, it was a little scary at first - peeking through squinting eyes sort of thing. I try not to read reviews normally unless I have some idea of the outcome. Luckily it worked out!

    Best, Gus

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