I feel like it’s been a little while since I’ve talked about books, what with my computer issues this week (I’m beginning to wonder if the phrase “customer service” should now be “customer disservice” anymore, but I digress). Here are two picture book reviews that I managed to pull off this week, even with a terribly slow or altogether useless modem. More to come later, as I still have a huge stack. Happy Saturday to all . . .
by Kevin Hawkes
Alfred A. Knopf
On the shelves June 12, 2007
If you’re a fan of Kevin Hawkes’ illustrations for Andrea Beaty’s imaginative ’06 title, When Giants Come to Play, then you will likely take much pleasure in his depiction of yet another larger-than-life (in more ways than one) character. This time it’s a wicked big toddlah. There’s nothing about this tot’s life that is any different from any other toddler’s – except that he’s ginormous. The title page spread brings us a stork carrying a hugely huge baby in his bill, heading straight toward the state of Maine (hence, the “toddlah” pronunciation, of course), and it’s on the opening page that the chuckles come, as we see that the poor bird -– complete with plaid hunting cap — is about to burst from the weight of it all and is doing everything he can just to stay up in the air. More humor is piled on in the form of the understated text – told from the perspective of the toddlah’s big sister, Jessie, and with no mention of the toddler’s size — juxtaposed with the images of him being hauled home as a newborn on the bed of a huge “lumbah” truck; taking a bath in the ocean and playing with boats (in this case, a real boat, whose lobster-hunting crew is a bit baffled to encounter such a giant creature); and blueberry picking, while his huge noggin with its blueberry-stained mouth appears over a hill and terrifies both the blueberry pickers nearby and the bears (and in what appears to be a clever nod toward McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, observant readers will spot a mama and boy in overalls and a mama and baby bear running like hell when they see the honkin’ big toddlah). The depictions of the toddlah’s diaper changes and first words (“hihowaahya?!!”) –- and the damage they inflict — are amusing and will likely generate many laughs with preschoolers who delight in hearing about their baby and toddler years from parents. Hawkes’ colorful, sprawling acrylic illustrations are beautiful (check out that blue ocean and bright blue sky on the cover, and there’s more goodness inside, including an autumn spread and the verdant woods of Maine) and full of fun-to-spot details, such as the “S.S. Bathtime,” having to accompany “Toddie’s” (as he’s come to be called) bath in the ocean; the “Good Humah” ice cream truck (as Toddie consumes the entire vehicle for a snack); and the lumberjacks and birds and old men in rocking chairs who get stuck (in syrup) to Toddie’s plaid jacket as he’s helping make maple syrup in the spring mud season. As both a loving and amusing tribute to life in small-town Maine and life with a new baby sibling, it’s great fun all-around.
by Geneviève Côté
I have recently become a fan of Canadian Geneviève Côté’s illustrations, which seem to possess an inherent luminescence. And her new title positively glows even brighter, telling the story of Little Monday, a wee rabbit, searching for his mother and finding her in the very light of the moon itself. “One summer, on a clear Monday night, the forest animals found a baby rabbit fast asleep in the moonlight. They called him Little Monday.” Little Monday (and take a look at our protagonist — is this an homage to Peter Rabbit himself?) loves to play with his new-found friends but often wonders who his mother is and where she might be. Setting out to find her, he is disappointed to find that Swan, Owl, Bear, Chipmunk, Skunk, and a host of other animals are not his mother, noting anyway that he cannot swim like Swan; cannot stay awake all night like Owl; cannot sleep all winter like Bear; and cannot climb trees like Chipmunk (Côté adding a bit of humor to the narrative when Little Monday figures out Skunk is not his mommy: “‘Never mind,’ said Little Monday. Frankly, he was relieved”). After giving up and falling asleep, he wakes with a start, thinking that someone is calling his name. “And there, in the big bright moon, a rabbbit was smiling at him.” Aha, he’s found his mother, and she comforts him by saying that, though she may not always be nearby, she watches over him “‘and light your way in the forest. Even on the darkest nights, even when you can’t see me, I’m always with you.’” In an Author’s Note at the book’s close, Côté explains that “Monday” means “day of the moon” in many languages and that for many generations people all over the world have celebrated the rabbit’s shadow in the light of the moon. And, as she points out, this reassuring title can serve as a reminder that “no one is truly ever alone in the night.” Côté’s mixed-media illustrations are delicately, affectionately rendered with, as The Horn Book review writes, “graceful curves often creating comforting circular shapes.” Publishers Weekly writes: ” . . . with just a few deft, scratchy lines, she conveys Little Monday’s vulnerability, curiosity and joy.” Côté’s night-time spreads are especially radiant with the glow of the moon reflecting in washes of white and yellow off Little Monday and his woodland friends. She also incorporates subtle humor with her depictions of the young rabbit’s attempts to emulate the other animals while looking for his mother (trying to hibernate for the winter on Bear’s back — but unable to sleep; trying to climb a tree like Chipmunk — but unable to make it past the first branch), thus making his discovery even more satisfying in the end. With his ecstatic announcement to the other animals — “‘Can you see my mommy? She’s been right here all along!’” — comes an understood sentiment: I may be different from you, but I’ve found where I belong . . . This one’s sentimental but not too syrupy-sweet. It’s just right and an attractive bed-time read.
One final note: Speaking of Canadian authors and/or illustrators, children’s book publisher Annick Press (with offices in Toronto and Vancouver) recently announced that, working under a grant from the Canadian government, they have produced a series of brief web video interviews with several of their authors and illustrators. To see and hear them speak about their characters and inspirations in two-minute interviews, visit this link.