Thursday, 24 May 2012

Big Plans by Bob Shea & Lane Smith

In Big Plans one young boy sets out to conquer the world with a stinky hat, a myna bird and some awfully big ideas.  This young narrator is unashamedly confident and I'm inclined to call this book an all American read. It's set in the US and loaded with American references from the White House to the St Louis arch, yet it's a universal tale of just how far your imagination can take you.

We meet our narrator at the end of a fraught school day where he's banished to sit in the corner and stare at the wall.  But on closer investigation there's not much staring going on. Instead, in his mind this little dude has already fled the classroom and is racing across the country like a frenzied politician who's got big ideas that he's about to action.  He reminds me of Ferris Bueller. His touch is like gold dust, people line up to get his attention, and no rules, government, parents or other boundaries are going to stand in his way! He's going to climb a mountain, paint the town red, become the mayor ... and the president ... then fly to the moon.  You see, he's got big plans.

This picture book has more text than many of the others I've featured and it's aimed at an older age group of 4 years plus.  However, you know it's a successful read when a two year old is happy to follow along from start to finish and gets caught up in the frenzy along the way.

It's all BIG; big format, big text and big illustrations.  I envision groups of kids shouting 'big plans' in unison as they read along to this book. From the board room to a football game and all the way to outer space, this kid is unstoppable. He shouts directions left and right and uses fantastic phrases like 'talk turkey' and 'big shots, big wigs and muckety-mucks'. There are telling details layered throughout the text and illustrations (have a look at the chalkboard and his rocket ship), which provide multiple opportunities for discussion when read aloud.  One of my favorite bits is at the beginning where our narrator decides that all he needs is a pair of his Dad's fanciest shoes and one of his shiniest ties in order to set forth and take over the world.  This one may make you sit back and wonder how the young people in your life really see you.

Big Plans is written by Bob Shea with illustrations by Lane Smith.  The publisher is Hyperion.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Little Mouse's Big Secret by Éric Battut

Meet Little Mouse.  He has a big secret and he doesn't want to share it - not with me, not with you and especially not with his menagerie of forest friends. He hides his 'secret' in the ground and slowly over several pages and several conversations the secret takes on a life of its own and everyone finds out what he was hiding!

E and I've had fun reading this book and as you might guess it's known as the 'mouse book' in our house. Little Mouse's big secret is actually a shiny red apple. He immediately decides that it's so unique that he must hide it and keep it for himself.  The key point here is that he hides it by burying it in the ground.

Each of his friends knows that he's up to something and they take it in turns to approach him about his secret.  A parade of characters follows and Squirrel, Bird, Turtle, Hedgehog, Rabbit and Frog each ask Little Mouse the same question and each receive the same response.

The repetition of their questions works well and gives the young reader time and space to focus on each animal and the accompanying picture on the facing page.  For in each picture Little Mouse's big secret is growing up and out of the ground behind him.  Little Mouse can't see it, but his buried apple soon sprouts and begins to shoot up first as a young sapling, then as a luscious green tree and finally as an apple tree in full bloom, laden with red apples. When the apples fall to the ground and surround Little Mouse he comes to the realization that maybe secrets (like apples) are better off being shared.

This is a lovingly simple book that gives you lots to talk about with your little one.  The idea of a secret, the growing cycle in nature and the importance of friends are all themes brought together by this Little Mouse. This book was published in France under the title Le Secret. My English version was published in 2011 by Sterling Children's Books.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

In celebration of the work of Maurice Sendak (1928 - 2012)

I saw this quote online from legendary children's book author/illustrator Maurice Sendak and wanted to share it: 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Big Dog ... Little Dog by P.D. Eastman

I think the time has come to highlight P.D. Eastman's popular canine duo, Fred and Ted. This cover image is as familiar to me as the back of my hand so it was with some trepidation that I slipped it into E's book pile.  I would have been a bit crushed had he tossed it aside, but E patiently accompanied me on my trip down memory lane and became fast friends with both the big dog and the little dog.

Fred and Ted's adventures are often referred to as stories about opposites but I think of them as stories about differences. Fred is big and Ted is little. One plays the flute and the other the tuba. One likes beets and one likes spinach.

Eastman plays on these differences to form the theme of the story and it all comes to a head when Fred and Ted take a  trip together - one in a red car and one in a green car. They arrive in the mountains and all goes along swimmingly until they check into a small hotel for a night.  Fred sleeps in a little bed and Ted sleeps in a big bed.  Neither bed fits correctly and both dogs toss and turn all night.  Eastman's illustrations take on a comic strip quality here and the pictures are a flurry of dog legs, blankets and tangled sheets.  E loves this page and normally shouts and points 'oh no, bed' at this stage (read last week's post for the origin of that phrasing).

The next day both dogs sit to discuss their predicament.  Slowly, at a gentle childlike pace and with the help of an all knowing bird, they realize that the big one should be in the big bed and the little one in the little bed.  They zoom back to their new rooms in true cartoon fashion and sleep peacefully. This problem solving moment is perhaps my most favorite part.  Rather than dwell on the issue they communicate to one another, come up with a solution and then action it.  Two dogs sitting on a log put their little world to right - it's a lesson for us all.

Big Dog ... Little Dog was published in 1973 by Random House, Inc. P.D. Eastman wrote a number of books about Fred and Ted in addition to numerous other titles for children. I find it particularly interesting that during his military service he crossed paths with Ted Geisel, known to most of us as Dr. Seuss. For more details about P.D. Eastman, Fred or Ted visit