Random Addenda: Elephant & Piggie, More Dementia, A Good Read-Aloud, and Betsy’s Caldecott Buzz

h1 June 18th, 2008 by jules

Ever post about something and then want to add to it later? Or read someone else’s post and have an idea for them? Well, I’m taking care of that today with a short list of addenda. Just humor me.

Addendum 1. Remember when Adrienne and I posted about what we called Slightly Demented Picture Books, a post dear to our hearts that resulted in quite a handful of folks piping up to name their favorite demented books? Well, I keep running across books to add to the list (namely, why hadn’t I ever read Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile, which I stumbled upon recently? Sylviane Donnio’s I’d Really Like to Eat a Child seems almost an homage to Dahl’s book, published back in 1978. And I read ’em in the wrong order, but at least I finally found Dahl’s crocodile tale).

Anyway, there’s a new title out from Candlewick, Beware of the Frog by William Bee, set to be published next week, I believe. And it not only made me (and the children around me) laugh out loud, but it is also one of those titles that embodies the spirit of our definition of Slightly Demented. Hoo boy, talk about the food chain (as we did in our post):

Sweet little old Mrs. Collywobbles, looking like she came straight out of South Park and who lives right on the edge of a “big, dark, scary wood,” has a pet frog. And he’s the only thing that protects her from all the horrible and terrifying creatures that live in the big, dark, scary wood. Three of those horrifying creatures—Greedy Goblin, Smelly Troll, and Giant Hungry Ogre—believe they have the ability to one-up the frog. But they’re wrong, and the results of their attempts to do so are pretty funny. And then, just when you’re already hoo-ha’ing over this intrepid frog and Bee’s offbeat, wry depiction of his triumphs over the scary wood creatures, Bee brings, not one, but TWO bah-dum-ching moments at the book’s close, throwing the reader two punchline curve balls you don’t see coming. Calling it quirky doesn’t cut it. Everything about the book—the narrative and Bee’s left-of-center style, including all his close-ups and frog get-ups—is wonderfully wacked. It’s almost as if Bee is speaking directly to those parents all set on shielding their children from the Grimms-esque scary and mysterious elements of the world (the Giant Hungry Ogre sings, “I must have my supper—a juicy old lady cooked in lots of honey and butter”). Maybe not so much speaking to them as saying: Here, try this on for size. And did I mention I almost soiled myself laughing at it, as did my children?

I’m eager for someone else who has read this to talk to me about it. You crazy, I want to say to this book if I were…uh…a person who uttered that phrase and talked to books. It’s some seriously funky stuff. This, in my book, is all good. If you’re like me, and you tire of hearing “cute” used to describe children’s books—when “cute,” that is, means harmless, which it often does (to be fair, some books are just cute and that can be okay)—-then this is a title for you.

Addendum 2. Speaking of Adrienne, she wrote a post back in April to which I keep appending titles in my own mind. I loved the topic of this post, which the post’s title makes clear: “Picture Books for Two Voices, or Doing Preschool Storytime for the Masses.” She wrote about serving a wide age range in her role as public librarian when they have “all-ages drop-in storytimes” and how she and one of her colleagues will read books with two voices, each taking a part. I saw a new title from Random House yesterday that fits this bill perfectly.

Brie Spangler’s picture book debut, Peg Leg Peke, joins the ranks of Picture Books Which Break That Fourth Wall, made so popular by Mo’s Pigeon books. In other words, here’s a title for Adrienne to add to her growing list of books in which she can pick a part, in this case one that either speaks directly to the protagonist or the protagonist himself.

In this title, we meet a Pekingese with a “boo-boo.” In fact, Spangler gets right to the emotional core of it all with a preschooler’s intensity by having the speaker say right off the bat, “Hello there! How are you today?” to which he replies with his speech bubble, “Not so good.
*Sniff!*” The dialogue continues: “Oh my, it looks like your leg is stiff as a board,” to which Peke replies, “I have a boo-boo.” The back-and-forth continues in this manner, the speaker eventually reminding Peke of the great power of his imagination by having him view his cast not as a bandage of any sort, but as a pirate’s peg leg. Or, as Kirkus put it, “Peke’s speech-bubble responses to an offstage, unnamed voice establish a classic preschooler-to-adult relationship, the indulgent grown-up helping to take Peke’s mind off his injury.” There’s a lot of humor here in the little details of Spangler’s drawings, and it’s fun to see the spreads . . . well, spread out as Peke’s world opens up in his mind. Kirkus also wrote, “{p}air this with Antoinette Portis’s Not a Box (2006) for a look at the fun of creative play to lift anyone’s spirit, even someone with a broken paw.” Yep, they’re on to something. Not a Box came to my mind, too, as well as Adrienne’s post. Here’s a perfect addition to the story-time/pick-a-part/read-in-two-voices canon.

Addendum 3. Last week, I posted about what I called EarlyEmergingBegin-
, books that fall somewhere between picture books for children and what are often called middle-grade novels. I mentioned that, in the name of early readers or beginning readers, I had yet to read Mo Willems’ two new Elephant & Piggie titles, I Love My New Toy! and I Will Surprise My Friend!. Well, since that post, I have read them, and I’m here to say that they lived up to my great expectations.

I can be way more glass-half-empty sometimes than I’d like to be, and with each new Elephant & Piggie title, I wonder how—just exactly HOW—Mo is going to manage to pull off The Funny yet one more time. But boy howdy he does with these two titles. If my girls and I are reading them in a public place, we have to suppress our loud, almost-obnoxious laughter. These books will do that to us. And when are Acting 101 students going to be required to use Elephant and Piggie beginning readers as texts in their courses? You know, there’s all the drama and suspense and emotional turmoil—O! the sturm und drang of it all! (Goethe who?). And the body language Mo gets out of these characters with the simplest of lines? The man’s smart.

What else can I say (except to tell you what these are about, but a. the titles tell you a lot and b. I don’t want to rob you of the Elephant & Piggie experience anyway). There’s more of the clever wit, accessible characters, slapstick, and all-around charm in these titles as in the previous ones, I Love My New Toy! the most emotionally-charged of them all. And, at each book’s core, is the tight friendship of E & P; their bond can survive the ups and downs of friendship, including—in this case—betrayal and well-meaning but heart-stopping surprises. I still say: Thank goodness Mo decided to turn his attention to beginning readers, a genre of books that needed a bit of a jolt (with some exceptions, as always) if ever there were one.

Addendum 4. So, I had a conversation with myself the other day (this happens sometimes at one’s blog, which always reminds me of this shirt, one I want to own, or the poster pictured here. You know, it’s good to be reminded occasionally to never take one’s blog too seriously) . . . where was I? Yes, I was talking to myself about what picture book titles I think are, thus far in ’08, Caldecott-worthy. I’m used to talking to myself—online or off—so this was okay, but as it turns out, Fuse had her own conversation yesterday, in which many folks participated, as they’re wont to do over there. So, if talking about the Caldecott makes you immoderately excited, as it does me, don’t miss it. It’s called “2009 Newbery and Caldecott Predictions — Halfway Mark,” and it’s here (scroll down to see it; don’t let all that white space fool you).

I posted comments an embarrassing number of times, and I was reminded that Kady MacDonald Denton, who illustrated the FLAWLESS A Visitor for Bear, written by Bonny Becker, is Canadian and not eligible. D’oh! Come to think of it, Edwin Fotheringham, who illustrated Barbara Kerley’s What to Do About Alice?, lives in Seattle now, but he is Australian, correct? Shoot, I dunno. Just don’t miss Fuse’s post.

Addenda complete. Back to your regularly scheduled programming . . .

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Edited to Add: Yet one more early-morning addendum:

Alkelda has posted about my grad-school annotation of The Frog Prince, which is here in cyber-land. I feel so special, just like that monkey up there. Seriously, I do, and thanks, Alkelda. I really loved that project. I’m happy that someone other than me and my former grad school prof is interested in reading it!

Pictured here is Iron Henry, the only character in the entire tale that you don’t want to smack upside the head, as Alkelda points out (but much more nicely and articulately) over at her site. I want to write a novel around the notion of the bands around his heart, or I would if, uh….I were a novelist with talent. (Or perhaps someone already has? Or maybe there is poetry out in the world about Faithful Henry and the cracking iron bands around his heart? I’ll have to do some research.)

12 comments to “Random Addenda: Elephant & Piggie, More Dementia, A Good Read-Aloud, and Betsy’s Caldecott Buzz”

  1. That poster is AWESOME. I laughed and laughed when I saw it here. Where’s it from?

  2. Susan, when I did a search for the “no one reads your blog” tee, which cracks me up, I found that poster, too. This was a while ago. Last night, as I was typing this and trying to find it again, I found it (here), and I always try to link images to where they came from, but she doesn’t even mention where she found it. Maybe she created it??

    And, yeah, it’s pretty funny, huh?

  3. It’s so funny. Thanks for the source.

    I love TV ads with monkeys, too.

  4. I love things Which Break That Fourth Wall! LOVE THEM! I must find those first two books.

    It looks as though that blogging monkey was created by (or is at least posted at) http://www.dba-oracle.com/

    RE: No One Cares About Your Blog: I saw a shirt with a similar sentiment in a window months ago. I stopped in my tracks, laughed out loud, then kept walking. I would totally wear that shirt.

  5. Thanks, LW, for the link. That was prompt.

  6. It’s like my own personal reading list! 🙂

    All I’d seen of Peg Leg Peke before reading your post was the cover, and I was immediately intrigued. It’s a great cover. I’m also glad to hear it might be good for our all-ages storytimes. We start storytime in the park next week, and I think we’re in for it. EVERYONE who walks into the Children’s Room keeps saying they’re planning to go. Ooo boy.

    I am dying to read the frog book. I have it on order, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Drat the USPS.

    I am also dying to get my hands on those new Elephant and Piggie books. Jason and I were rereading There is a Bird on Your Head in the Children’s Room yesterday, and several children came over to see what we were doing on account of the way we were laughing.

  7. Adrienne, I suppose the two new E & P titles would also be good two-parter read-alouds, though the one about the toy might have to involve a prop and/or some pantomime. They’re both savagely funny. How does Mo pull off the Savagely Funny with each E & P title? Granted, I have some I like better than others, but if I were him, I’d feel tremendous pressure to even come up with an IDEA for each new one. Ah well. That’s why he makes books, and I don’t.

    Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Bee’s book, Adrienne….I wish I could see your face when you read it and hear you laugh (I’m making an assumption here that you will laugh. I thought it was seriously weird and wonderful and funny).

  8. I had to skip Addendum #1 because I’ve had Beware The Frog ordered since January and want to be surprised. As my eyes scrolled past that part of the post, however, I did see the Slightly Demented PB reference! Oh good!! I am SO hoping this one lives up to my expectations!

    And I am very pleased you are trumpeting the wonderfulness of Elephant & Piggie- they are deserving of any and all praise. They got my reluctant reader to like reading and are a breath of fresh air for the genre. Yay Mo!!

  9. Have you seen Castle Waiting, the graphic novel by Linda Medley? Iron John is one of the motley crew populating the castle although we have yet to see his backstory.

  10. No, Jennifer. Thanks for the tip! Will look for it.

  11. Jules, When you posted over on Fuse #8 that you had a conversation with yourself about the awards, I immediately scurried over to see what you said. Had to dig. It was buried. Please put it in the headline each time. We want to hear your buzz. Love the interviews! Thank you.


  12. Just to clarify with regard to your query about my citizenship: I was born in Portland, OR. Raised in Sydney, Australia. I am a U.S. citizen, using a more colorful vernacular.

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