A Clucking Cow, a Belle Babe, Peggony-Po,
and One Rollicking Road

h1 October 30th, 2006 by jules

Hey. Jules here. I’m back. Let’s talk some great, new picture books I have here in my hands, shall we?

Before we get to these wonderful ’06 titles, allow me to also enthusiastically encourage nominations for the Cybil Awards. As Eisha mentioned in the recent Poetry Friday post, we are both involved, separately, on nomination committees for the fledgling and fabulous new Cybil Awards. I am honored to be on the Picture Book nominating committee; I just got online to visit my local library and max’ed out the number of items I can have on hold — picture books, picture books, and more picture books so that when you — yes, you! — go here to nominate the one high-quality picture book you think is the most outstanding (for good reasons) this year, I will be all prepared and will have, likely, read it (I’m keeping my eye on the nominations, of course) or at least know where to get my hands on it. As someone else commented on the Cybils site, this is a great way to create a reading list. And I’m diggin’ it (though I’m all sturm-und-drang about which book to nominate myself — Waiting for Gregory? Mommy?? The Sound of Colors? It’s so hard to pick just one, but the exercise is good for the ‘ol mental juices).

Okay, on to these lovely new picture book titles:

beautiful-girl.jpgA Beautiful Girl by Amy Schwartz — I love Amy Schwartz. She’s all that and a box of cookies (as David Fisher would say). She is — arguably, as these things always are in our opinionated field — one of the top-ten most child-centered picture book author/illustrators out there. I mean, What James Likes Best and A Glorious Day perfectly capture the details to which toddlers attend (and she has created many other excellent books). And she’s back with A Beautiful Girl, a bright, brisk, dapper little book in which a young girl encounters, on her way to the market, several animals who declare her eyes and ears and mouth and nose to be weird and bizarre and, essentially, not like theirs (you have “goofy gills,” says the fish; the bird doesn’t understand her “beak”; the elephant thinks her nose just flat-out funny-looking; etc.). With a lucid, short-and-sweet text with pleasing repetition for those ritual-lovin’ wee ones, Jenna, the titular young protagonist, explains how she is different from them and that, indeed, she doesn’t pick up peanuts with her nose but instead smells cookies baking and her mama’s scent when she hugs her. Indeed, she doesn’t have one hundred eyes like the fly, but she has two, and she sees the clouds and her dog and . . . well, you get the picture. It’s a charming, self-affirming story for those toddlers who love to declare how big they are and what they’re capable of. And one of the many things I love about Schwartz is the seeming artlessness, the naivete, of her illustrations (and I meant “artlessness,” as in uncontrived — not as in poorly made). Children spot this right away; her work is candid, ingenuous. I do find myself — each time I put the book down — with the lingering wish that Schwartz had included in the book’s pleasing repetitive structure a bit about the girl’s hands, for then we’d have a complete and lovely addition to the category of books about the five senses (and, to boot, to pair with Raschka’s latest, reviewed here by yours truly). Instead, Schwartz goes only so far as four senses. But it’s a minor complaint. Schwartz still shines in all her greatness with this title.

fleming.gifThe Cow Who Clucked by Denise Fleming — I have been waiting for this one since I read in this online newsletter at Publishers Weekly’s site that Fleming’s source of inspiration for this new title (in regards to her art work) was van Gogh. The text is simple and an effortless read with a pleasing rhythm (and more of that repetition the wee ones love) when read aloud — a cow awakens one morning to find he can only say “cluck” and sets out to find his moo. And Fleming executes this story with a vibrancy and depth — in the style of van Gogh — that is most impressive (using colored cotton fiber, hand-cut stencils, and squeeze bottles). She told Publishers Weekly that she populated this poor, perplexed protagonist cow’s world with the “cypress trees, red-roofed cottages, fields of wheat, starry nights, and clear blue skies with soft clouds” of van Gogh, “although no one does blue like {he does}.” And it’s a charming tribute, though — at the same time — the book possesses Fleming’s unmistakable style. And, for the observant van Gogh fan, he can be spotted, mostly in shadow, with his painting equipment in the background on several double page spreads, traversing his own beautiful, starry countryside. It probably goes without saying that the cow finds his moo after all, and you — if you experience Fleming’s lush artwork here — will find your heart all a’flutter. Fleming has outdone herself this time.

zanzibar.gifWelcome to Zanzibar Road by Niki Daly — You know you want to read a book that has this text in it:

One day, Mama Jumbo put on her
“Go-to-town, knock-’em-down, ding-dong” hat.
Then she and Little Chico went out and
bought a prickly pear tree in a pretty pink clay pot.

This is your standard 32-page picture book but in five “chapters,” five stories — set in Africa — about the elephant Mama Jumbo, her desire to find a home, some neighbors, and someone to love. Oh, it’s great on so many levels: It’s got this child-centeredness that I’ve already opined Amy Schwartz does so well; it’s hysterical; it’s touching; the characters leap off the page with much personality and wit; and it’s clever, too. It also has one of my new favorite illustrations (involving Mama Jumbo’s new-found house-mate — Little Chico, a very funny little chicken, who becomes like a child to her — whom she cradles under a Raschka-esque moon on Zanzibar Road, her new home) and some of my new favorite picture book characters, including Baba Jive with his “jazzy sax,” making parties sizzle with music and laughter, and Little Chico, who declares, “you’re the hottest mama in the whole wide world!” (Who wouldn’t love a child like that?). Daly uses soft, warm watercolors to bring these delightful characters to life — and with much detail (I actually found myself coveting Mama Jumbo’s various groovy-patterned dresses). This book just spills over with energy and zest. Go find your favorite child, and share this one.

peggony-po.gifPeggony-Po: A Whale of a Tale by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney — The Pinkney pair, who never fail to wow me, here give us an original tall tale that is based upon the life of African-American whalers on the high seas in the 19th century. Peggony-Po, a sprightly, young lad (Pinkney is perfect to portray such a whimsical, high-spirited lad; I love Pinkney’s lines and arcs and characters so joyful and nimble that their feet barely touch the ground), was named for a sea shanty and carved by his father, Galleon Keene, from a piece of driftwood Galleon had used to float to safety after a run-in with the devilish whale, Cetus, his archnemesis. Peggony-Po, who “speaks his mind and has a whole lot of mettle,” vows to finally bring down the whale and so sets off in the spirit of adventure to ride the whale and bring an end to his father’s woes. Pinkney’s etched artwork radiates with color and movement — oh my but he’s good at composition, that Pinkney is. The text has an often-sing-songy, folksy feel in the tradition of the tellings of such tall tales. And I was extra pleased to see an author’s note of sorts in the back, providing a bit of a background on the book’s setting and even a glossary (and who knew it’s not really “There she blows!” but “There blows!”? Not I). Oh-ho, read Peggony-Po!

That’s it for now, though I have more, my friends. More. I’ll have to do a Part Two post soon. Ciao. And remember . . . don’t forget to go vote!

5 comments to “A Clucking Cow, a Belle Babe, Peggony-Po,
and One Rollicking Road”

  1. ooh, yes! you’re so right about The Cow Who Clucked (a.k.a. “Where’s Vinnie?”) – i love denise fleming, and this one is an all-time high for her. well, i dunno, i do love that pert little mouse in Lunch. and that grouchy bear in Time To Sleep. oh, and Buster, gotta love Buster.

    i haven’t seen the others. will do something about that right away. Zanzibar Road sounds like it’s made for storytime.

  2. they’re actually *all* good for story times, though ‘Peggony-Po’ is for a slightly older audience (ages 4 to 7, according to the Publishers Weekly review). i guess i could start putting age ranges on these titles, but i loathe that game, too. i mean, hey, we’re in our 20s — ahem, i mean our 30s — and we’re reading picture books….it’s just so hard to do the age range thing. anyway, your wee toddlers at your wee toddler story time wouldn’t sit through ‘Peggony-Po’….however, Schwartz’s title, in particular, would be a huge hit with its repeated refrain, “Excuse me. I am not a robin. I am a big girl and this is my nose” (varies with each animal — “I am not a fly. I am a big girl and I have two eyes” — you get the picture). The children at story time could fill in those blanks. I can hear them screaming, “these are my EARS!”

  3. Jules,

    I was so happy to read your comment on Fuse #8’s blog that you also love the picture book Wolves. I just wrote about in on my site even though I rarely review picture books because it was too wonderful to skip. I’m glad to know there’s someone on the Cybils committee who loves it too!

  4. Stephanie, thanks! I will have to link to your review, too, if I review it. Such a great book.

  5. Hi Brian this my be weird but… I think you are part of my family! If you know any one named Alice,Paul or Broderick you may be. The teachers and kids at my school love your art work! My favorite book is Duke Ellington. Bye!

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