I read only a very few picture books in March, but as I’ve promised short reviews for all of the picture books that I do read:
Too Hot to Hug! by Steve Smallman and illustrated by Cee Biscoe. Sandy Creek-Sterling, 2013. First published 2010. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.
This is a book that I first spotted in a clearance bin at Barnes & Noble. That store sold out of its copies of the book before I brought one up to a register. When on vacation I discovered it accidentally in the bargain section of another Barnes & Noble, I snatched a copy and brought it to the register right away, even though it wasn’t clearance priced. I admit that I judged its worth almost solely on its cover when considering its purchase. Cee Biscoe’s illustrations are whimsically adorable. I’m intrigued by what the illustrations here do for the story. Biscoe’s illustrations evoke a more modern setting than I would have, I think, otherwise pictured for this text, and I like that. It introduces the idea of dragons still existing the wilds of the world. The more modern setting paired with the family’s desperate need for firewood that must be collected by young boys in a snowstorm suggests to me too a family of a lower socioeconomic bracket, though for that, they do not seem to be terribly ill off given the several books that the family reads throughout the story or the toast rack that seems such a frivolity to me in any socioeconomic bracket, though they seem to live without electricity, possess only a few clothes, and wash in a metal tub. The text by Smallman is delightful enough too with some wonderful similes that offer a sense of place and character to the text and many an onomatopoeia. His text tells of a young dragon scared of the water, who learns that the water is not only innocuous but that by bathing he is made more lovable to the family that adopts him and cannot stand the touch of his unwashed and too hot flesh. There may be a lesson there for the child unwilling to take a bath or afraid to learn to swim. More likely, though, the child will relate better to Ryan, the young boy who finds the dragon’s egg and brings it home. The dragon, Crumpet, is not particularly anthropomorphized, being given more the qualities of a dog than a human. Ryan’s is a story of wanting to keep a troublesome pet and discovering some way to make that pet more palatable to his family. That may be a relatable tale too, though one that I personally and thankfully have not experienced.
The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.
This is the latest of the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. I had the chance to read this and several of the other Pigeon books that I’ve already reviewed here to a group of children for a story hour. Willems books are wonderful to read aloud, the dialogue that composes the stories being wonderfully expressive and between it and the illustrations the tone and inflections that Willems desires being wonderfully clear. Being unable yet to give distinct voices to each character, I find myself still adding the occasional dialogue tag or description of the characters’ actions that doesn’t appear in the text. Willems’ books are interesting in that, through those additions, the books could easily be tailored to the audience and situation. I love Willems books for the accuracy of his characters’ voices, mimicking lines and tones that I’ve heard from children on many occasions before. The Pigeon Needs a Bath! is not excluded from this praise. Pigeon doesn’t wasn’t to bathe. He doesn’t believe that he needs to. In talking with a parent after the story hour, we discussed the intended age for the books, which does tend towards the elder level of picture book readers. These books are marketed for ages 3-5 (I would actually argue that this like Elephant and Piggie ought to be marketed for ages 4-8) and appeal strongly to the parents. The Pigeon and Willems don’t apologize for an occasional large and nuanced word. I cannot remember what word was the trigger for that particular comment. It might have been “considered;” it might have been “coincidental;” then there are phrases like “That is a matter of opinion.”