sent me a couple of new books that were bound to make me think of some major
classics. Can it be that a new generations of authors and illustrators will
hold their own against the big guys? Kind of like in professional wrestling? We
dares to challenge Richard Scarry, he of the busy world, cute-without-being-irritatingly-adorable
characters, and lots of cars and trucks?
would be Brian Biggs. I missed his first outing, the 2011 title Everything
Goes: On Land
. And I’m lacking his forthcoming easy readers, such as Everything
Goes: Henry in a Jam
. But I’m sitting here looking at Everything Goes: In the
—with its nice big 10x12 trim size—and I also have two board books under the
Everything Goes banner: Stop! Go! A Book of Opposites
and 1 2 3 Beep Beep Beep!
A Counting Book
in Biggs’s book you will find fewer narratives, especially those mini stories
Scarry was so fond of telling, e.g., in Cars and Trucks and Things that Go
Pig Family gets sprayed by a street washer with a broken nozzle and then, on
the next page, a load of oranges gets dumped on them and their car because Mrs.
Rabbit was yelling instructions to Mr. Rabbit.
does something similar, though it isn’t as intricate. For example, in
Everything Goes: In the Air
, the main narrative is following a family that is
going on a trip in an airplane The emphasis is on the family’s son, who appears
to be six or seven years old. But other things are happening in the airport.
Most notably, a woman pushing quintuplets in a stroller loses all five, and
readers must help the worried mother find her active babies (who may remind you of the escaped baby in Hilary Knight’s Where’s Wallace
The young main character asks questions about the airport and planes, and his parents
answer. The questions and answers are useful and clear. Airplane history is
included, as on the spread showing planes like the Spirit of St. Louis, the Red
Baron, and an early passenger plane. One early plane is shown on another spread
with the parts labeled. The pilot is labeled, plus there’s a label saying,
“Nice mustache” of the pilot’s facial hair. On another page, a stunt plane
that’s flying upside down is labeled upside down.
just goes to show that the humor is likely to grab you, especially if you’re
the parent reading this with a child. A man in the airport holds a sign for an
incoming passenger and the name is “Murgatroyd.” Arrivals and departures are
listed, but along with ordinary city names we get Dullsville, Outtatown, and
Big Apple. Certain characters speak with alliteration: one man says into his
cell phone, “Honolulu was heavenly,” and on the next page another man says into
his, “I said, ‘I’ll see ya’ll in Yellville!’” Yelling, of course. A stand full
of brochures has a sign up top that says Tourist Traps. A pirate at security is
told he can’t take his sword on the flight, though apparently he can take his
parrot. My favorite funny detail is when a news helicopter is show flying and a
reporter looks over, saying, “That’s not a bird or a plane.” A superhero is
standing on top of a skyscraper off to one side. The author nicely balances
airplane and airport information with humorous details. We even get a nod to
feminism with a remark about an airplane pilot.
board books are similar in style. Their plain colored backgrounds will make it
easier for toddlers to interpret what they see. We get touches of humor and
cheery, creative renditions of concepts using all kinds of vehicles. For
example, one spread in the opposites book shows MANY motorcycles coming up
behind a FEW (three) unicycle riders. One of the unicyclists looks back with a
worried expression at the onslaught of motorcylists. Then there's the counting book that starts
off with 1 bus and 2 RV’s before working its way up to 9 race cars and 10
bicycles. But best of all is the last spread, which shows 1 BIG traffic jam.
artwork is cheery and fun, though it’s not as engaging as Scarry’s work. The
style is different, with simpler, larger shapes and stronger lines. The
characters are appealing in general and do funny things, but they lack the strong
individual personalities of characters like Scarry’s famous Lowly Worm, Officer
Flossy, and Mistress Mouse. One reason might be that the
characters’ facial expressions are somewhat uniform, particularly the eyes,
which are black dots and don’t do much.
definitely recommend the Everything Goes books for today’s kids. But hang onto
your Richard Scarry books. With their marvelous characters, their fine print,
their eloquent illustrations, and their diminutive narratives, they make the
perfect follow-up to Brian Biggs’s vehicular world.
taking on P.D. Eastman, creator of the best dog book ever
? We’re talking Go,
name is Horvath. James Horvath. In case you aren’t sure about the challenge
being on, check out the title: Horvath’s book is actually called Dig, Dogs,
. All right, with a subtitle: A Construction Tail
. The name matches Eastman's even if
the punctuation doesn’t. (How many of you will admit you’ve
looked up the title of the Eastman classic at one time or another to figure
out if it’s one sentence or two?)
right along, let’s check out Horvath’s construction worker dogs. I like that
the author-illustrator introduces his dogs on the front endpaper: supervisor
Duke (who carries a bullhorn) and crew members Roxy, Buddy, Max, Spot, and
Spike. Then our story begins. We see the aforementioned dogs plus several more
in their beds. There's even a cat. Duke calls to them from the doorway:
no time to wait.”
next spread shows the dogs leaping out of their beds, ready to get to work. Which
is an obvious homage to pages 48–51 of Go, Dog. Go! Pages 48–49 show a bunch of
dogs asleep in a large bed and tell us that night is not the time for play. But
the next spread shows the same room in the morning. Dogs are leaping out of
bed, and a dog in charge with a bullhorn calls:
anything, Horvath’s book was inspired by page 34 in Go, Dog. Go!
There we find
three dogs at work. It’s a great little scene involving a shovel, a pickaxe,
and a jackhammer. (See also page 18.) That said, Horvath jumps off and does his
own thing. His dogs really are construction workers, and unlike Eastman’s dogs—who
show up everywhere from a ski slope to the top of a giant tree—Horvath’s crew
goes to the site and builds, builds, builds. It’s a nice focus. When the dogs
get to work, we get a page showing the different machines they will use. The
machines pop because they are all yellow with some black on a green background.
Each is labeled as part of the text:
work goes on with a great twist—as the dogs dig, they discover a huge T-Rex
bone! What will they do with it? And why is there a truck full of ducks heading
rhymes his text, which could have been distracting. But most of the rhymed
phrases flow smoothly, and that’s pretty hard to do. Dig, Dogs, Dig
is very fun
stuff. Like the Everything Goes books, it has great boy appeal. What’s interesting is
that I have a similar quibble with Horvath’s artwork. The illustrations are
cartoonish, colorful, and active, which is great. However, the dogs are less
personable than one might hope. Even on that front endpaper, all of them have
their mouths hanging open the same way and—we’re back to the eyes, in this case
black ovals with white dot pupils. Look at how someone like Kevin Henkes does
eyes and facial expressions and I think you’ll see what I mean. Let's face it: now that more
illustrators are using computers to create picture books, this may continue to
be an issue.
I can happily recommend Dig, Dogs, Dig
. It has real verve, and I think young
readers (especially boys) are going to like it. Try pairing it with its mentor
and predecessor, Go, Dog. Go!
The dogs in this book complete the whole construction project in just one day.
You might want to point out to your child that a construction project normally
takes months and months.
on Dr. Seuss (sort of)
up against Theodore Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss?
no one, actually. Not with the full list of superpowers: crazy-funny drawings,
successful rhymes that shouldn’t be, the occasional social commentary, easy
readers that made Dick and Jane run for cover, and a generally mad take on
life. (Five hundred hats? An elephant sitting on an egg like a chicken? A green
guy who’s the anti-Santa Claus?)
do have contenders when it comes to certain Seussian factors, however, so let’s
take a look at them.
first name that comes to mind is Mo Willems—especially his Elephant and Piggie
books. They’re the new classics in easy readers, and I can see why. Humor, not
to mention melodrama of the kind appropriately associated with frustrated 5-year-olds,
is the name of the game. Elephant and Piggie are marvelous personalities, as is
Pigeon. The situations are more commonplace that the ones you will meet in Dr.
Seuss’s books, but that makes the humor all the more impressive. It’s like
Seinfeld for kindergartners.
who can we go to? It’s very hard to write a great rhymed narrative. The only
person I can think of who has pulled it off recently—and in quite a different
style—is the late, supremely talented Margaret Mahy with her
poem-turned-picture book, Bubble Trouble
. Here’s my review
from April 2009.
have to move beyond the easy reader category to find any further comparisons to the great
Geisel. How about our latest Newbery award winner, Jon Klassen, with his hat
trick duo, I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat. Story pacing,
an odd and unique illustrative style, and an equally nutty sense of humor?
Klassen, in his own way, has a certain kinship to Seuss. Though for writing, I'm more inclined to select an off-the-wall collaborator of Klassen's, Mac Barnett. Just take a look at Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem, for example.
new Seuss, ironically, can’t be too much like the old Seuss. It’s been said
that no one can successfully imitate Dr. Seuss, and I agree. So maybe Mo
Willems really is the new Dr. Seuss. Maybe Jon Klassen can stake a claim, or even Mac Barnett. But let's remember that one of the best things about children’s literature is that it
accumulates. "The more the merrier" definitely applies. We have more great books for kids now than we did 20 years ago,
and more 20 years ago than we had 30 years before that. I should say
instead that children’s books are cumulative—like the refrains in some of the
best ones. Say, for example,
do not like them here or there.
do not like them anywhere.
do not like green eggs and ham.
do not like them, Sam-I-am.”