Life’s Little Bumps
by Susie Wilde
*This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Kids & Books.*
I love the new illustrations NoveList added. And today, now that the tax-mailing has subsided, I’m sending Catie and Zach If I Had a Triceratops (see review below)!
Early childhood is fraught with small dramas and traumas. One prescription for a child in melt-down mode: read aloud a book that addresses the issue that child is facing. Take one preschooler dissolved in tears, read a story in which a young role model tackles the same problem successfully, and by the book’s end, tears disappear and the predicament fades. Teachers and parents alike find that this practice creates a quiet one-on-one moment to soothe a hurting child. Librarians and teachers should also consider that titles may speak to the struggles of groups of children. For example, can there ever be too many books about new siblings, for a relationship that lasts a lifetime? Books with issues at their core make enjoyable read-alouds for everyone.
Here are new titles to comfort young children dealing with life’s little bumps.
The New Small Person, written and illustrated by Lauren Child (2015)
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Elmore Green “started off life as an only child as many children do” and lives happily in his Elmore-centric world. “But then one day, everything changed” as a “new small person” came into his life. Lauren Child demonstrates her knowledge of the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of young children through words and many visual details, such as the eccentricity of Elmore’s costumes and his hands-on-hips indignation when the small person wears “his fourth most favorite outfit. Without asking.” Elmore can’t escape, especially when the new small person moves its bed into his room. This problem, which initially upsets Elmore, provides a surprising solution. When Elmore has a bad dream, the small new person “bravely got out of bed and clung onto him” and shouted “Go away, Scary!” By the story’s end, Elmore opens his precious jelly bean jar and says, “You can have a jelly bean if you like, Albert.” Albert, dressed exactly like his big brother, reaches into the jar, picking Elmore’s favorite flavor. That prompts a realistic sibling response as Elmore snatches away the jar adding the caveat, “except orange.”
Just Itzy by Lana Krumwiede, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (2015)
Itzy likes everything about being a spider, except his nickname, Itzy Bitzy. “Today was his first day of spindergarten, and he wanted everyone to call him Itzy. Just Itzy.” He starts by convincing his mom and his big brother Gutzy. From their responses he thinks the best path to getting respect means showing his independence by catching his own fly for lunch. The good web-spinning spots are taken by his fellow spiderlings, but Itzy is determined to follow his teacher’s advice to “keep his eye on the fly.” He does this so literally, going right down the throat of the Old Lady. At book’s end, Itzy more than earns his grown-up name: he spins a ladder web to rescue his brother from the top of the waterspout and catches two flies besides. This story features school beginnings, independence, and sibling rivalry, with a host of traditional nursery rhymes woven throughout.
Cat & Bunny, written and illustrated by Mary Lundquist (2015)
“Cat and Bunny were born on the same day of the same month in the same year.” Two toddlers, dressed in fanciful outfits that match their names, do everything together — daydreaming, lunching, all kinds of adventures. “Friends forever!” says Bunny. Cat declares “Just us!” But others want to play and Bunny says “Of course” to each one. “Cat didn’t say anything.” Instead she runs away (an event unnoticed by the sociable Bunny). She waits and is lonely until she meets a new friend and invents new games which come to include her friend Bunny. This very simple story speaks volumes about the complex feelings of exclusivity and maintaining a friendship.
If I Had a Triceratops, written and illustrated by George O’Connor (2015)
The wordless first page shows a young boy’s desire for this unusual pet as he walks down a sidewalk sporting a horn over his nose and two strapped to a band around his head. By the third page, he’s leading home a leashed triceratops and acknowledging the hard work it will take. Pictures show ridiculous situations: providing her a house (only one horn fits inside the structure), allowing her to sleep in his room (the sleepless boy is in a bed precariously perched on the triceratops’ back), cleaning up after her (the boy lugs a giant bag of droppings). The humorous match of text and illustration suit a child who’s seeking a pet, or coming to understand the responsibilities of caring for one.
Sheep Go to Sleep, by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple (2015)
Previously, masterful rhymer Nancy Shaw’s collaborations with illustrator Margot Apple have featured an active sheep herd traveling (by ship, jeep, and space craft), shopping, hiking, and trick-or-treating. Now, however, “winking fireflies light the way, as sheep stroll home to hit the hay.” Their path to sleep isn’t easy. Thank goodness for a patient black and white border collie who wanders by just as “nighttime noises scare the sheep. Really who could go to sleep?” That’s not all that keeps them awake. One sheep needs a hug, another sheep wants a drink, someone else needs a teddy bear, and one needs a quilt. Finally, however, “all the sheep have closed their eyes. They’ll drowse and dream until sunrise.” And in a final nursery rhyme nod, a waking sheep wonders, “but where is the dog who looks after the sheep. He’s under the haystack, fast asleep.” Collie comfort, soothing rhyme, and soft pencil drawings provide just the right lulling for a conversation about what a child needs and finds comforting at bedtime.
Waiting is Not Easy! written and illustrated by Mo Willems (2014)
Anxious Elephant and exuberant Piggie have faced a multitude of problems because Mo Willems, their creator, has his finger on the pulse exactly on what concerns young children. Piggie cartwheels into the room announcing to his elephant friend Gerald, “I have a surprise for you!” Gerald wants to know what it is, but Piggie puts him off with, “The surprise is a surprise.” Guessing ensues. Is it big? Pretty? Something to share? “Yeses” build Gerald’s excitement, but still he has to wait. Expressive Elephant erupts in a giant “GROAN!” but that, and begging, pleading, and pretending indifference have no effect. Darkness comes and finally the surprise appears (for Gerald and readers) as the book ends with a gorgeous, page-filling photograph of the night sky. Waiting is Not Easy provides an interesting way to speak about the thrills and tear-spills of waiting and how sometimes waiting for a surprise can be unavoidable — but well-worth it. Piggie and Elephant also give an excellent view of the power of napping in I Will Take a Nap(2015).
Boa’s Bad Birthday, by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross (2014)
“It was going to be the best one ever. Or so he hoped.” Boa has a mix of optimism and skepticism because his birthday is friend-dependent. “They would all bring him wonderful presents. Or would they?” Orangutan arrives with an enormous piano-shaped present. It is indeed a piano, but Boa has no fingers with which to play it. He coils against his mother who remarks, “It’s the thought that counts.” Boa is willing to adopt this attitude, but it becomes ever more difficult as Monkey brings glasses for the nose-less, ear-less Boa, Jaguar gives him mittens, Sloth a hairbrush, and Anteater a soccer ball. When his mother announces Dung Beetle’s arrival, Boa knows he’s brought a “pile of You Know What.” However, within that unlikely gift is a seed that sprouts into the beautiful tree “he had always wanted.” “So,” cautions the author, “if you ever get a present that stinks, say thank you. Because it might turn out to be . . . the best present ever!” If ever there was a playful way to introduce present protocol, this book is it!
Stormy Night, written and illustrated Salina Yoon (2015)
“One stormy night, Bear couldn’t sleep” amid whirring wind, crackling trees, and pounding rain. He sings to comfort his bunny, Floppy, and feels better until thunder starts. Soon, a scared Mama and Papa arrive for comfort and Bear knows just how to make them feel better. When a crashing sound of thunder roars (so big that it fills the page with a giant, bolded BOOM!) and is surrounded by jagged lightning, Bear closes his eyes tight and Mama and Papa comfort him the way he has shown comfort. Finally, the storm ends, as Papa says, “Even storms need their sleep!” The last page shows a warm family bear pile cuddling under a clear, starry sky.
As adults, we read aloud as much for ourselves as for our children. The hardest thing in the world for adults is to see children suffering with an issue, even if the child is young and the problem is smallish. Adults need comfort too. Books can open conversation in a way that’s calming for everyone.