What do peas, palindromes,
promenading pigs, puerile perseverance,
and one’s particular peculiarities have in common?

h1 November 28th, 2006 by jules

{So, I never said titles were my strength} . . .

What they have in common is that they’re the subjects of some more entertaining ’06 picture book titles, ones I’ve been meaning to tell you about for a good while now but am finally getting to. So, let’s get right to it, shall we?


  • What?The Princess and the Pea adapted by Lauren Child and captured by Polly Borland
  • About? — You know the classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen; Child has given it some snazz and some oomph and lots of her usual frill with a spirited, italics-heavy re-telling.
  • Why It’s Mostly Worth Reading — If you like tiny things (Eisha, o Eisha, have you seen this one?), you will squeal over this book. Child and Borland created a miniature world for the story, Child having created paneled rooms out of cardboard boxes and picture board. She filled this three-dimensional world with dollhouse furniture, making or commissioning what she couldn’t find, such as the fabled palace guest bed and the twelve mattresses placed upon it (she made that lovely little thing), moving all these teeniny things around with tweezers. Child fills this world with what are, essentially, paper dolls — her usual florid, frou-frou, rather ornate characters with all the beautiful, textured, patterned dresses I would covet in real life but could never actually fit into (since her characters are also a bit anorexic). Borland then captured each scene with her camera. It’s inviting but a bit too airy, too roomy in spots to me — the showy paper dolls getting lost in their little worlds with Borland’s perspective being a bit off at times, too. But what stands out is Child’s lively, humorous text, which pokes a bit of fun at the pensive romanticism of some of these tales (“{t}he Prince explained to the king and the queen how simply none of {the ladies at the Royal Ball} was mesmerizing or fascinating. And none of them, not one of them, has a certain . . . something about them. No, if he couldn’t marry for love, then he would rather live alone for all eternity, gazing at all the stars in the night sky. Not only was he romantic but also a little dramatic”), though it’s a bit too heavy on the italics. Yes, it is. And don’t let the cover keep you from reading the book. I’m sorry, but too. much. pink. And poor composition. This sat around, all unopened, for the longest time at our house, due to the cover; even though that little crystal chandelier actually does light up, that cover is just too disappointing to me. The book will, likely, be a winner, though, for your paper-doll-lovin’ girls (and boys) and anyone wanting a somewhat spunky riff on the classic tale.

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  • What?Mom and Dad Are Palindromes by Mark Shulman and illustrated by Adam McCauley
  • About? — Bob’s (Robert Trebor) life is almost ruined when his elementary teacher discusses palindromes and points out that he is the class palindrome as well (as his face becomes “REDDER and REDDER” — ah, the palindromes are everywhere!). He freaks out to see that, indeed, they are everywhere, only to realize they’re really just words. The fun is in spotting the more-than-101 palindromes in the book.
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — The aforesaid fun, as the many palindromes are cleverly snuck into the illustrations (such as book titles in the background — Evil Olive and Was It a Cat I Saw? — and road signs in the distance, “Lion Oil” and “Face Decaf”) as well as displayed in the playfully-designed text, which highlights the clever palindrome words and sentences (“the clock struck NOON. I knew that would happen. Some kids would take the hint. DID I? I DID” and “I drank some POP for PEP. It made me GAG”) with bold type and various fonts. McCauley’s mixed-media illustrations (click here to flip through some) are cunning and clever in their manic cartoon-style. And Shulman builds the tension well, as Bob almost breathlessly comes to realize — and eventually accept — our palindrome-laden world. Fun wordplay for observant readers who enjoy digging for surprises, too.

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  • What?Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin
  • About? — Farmer Brown and his sneaky farm animals are back (remember Click, Clack, Moo and Giggle, Giggle, Quack?). This time, while Farmer Brown sleeps, they prepare for a talent show at the county fair. With the prize being a trampoline, how can they resist?
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — Because how funny are Cronin and Lewin as a team? Very. Always. It’s got lots of laughs for children (the cows rehearsing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for the contest, being sure to drink their tea with lemon, and let’s not forget the pigs doing an interpretive dance), but it’s also full of plenty of clever asides that will get adults laughing as well, mostly in the form of small print footnote disclaimers to be spotted by observant readers. Lewin’s watercolor illustrations sparkle, as usual, with humor and warmth, and Cronin always paces her stories ever-so perfectly. A wonderful read-aloud, in particular, and great fun. Dooby, dooby, BOING! (thanks to Duck’s rendition of “Born to Be Wild,” they get to enjoy that trampoline).

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  • What?Walk On!: A Guide for Babies of All Ages by Marla Frazee
  • About? — Just what that title tells you — a how-to guide for the wee ones on getting up off the chubby, little bum and MOVIN’ . . .
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — Yes, a how-to guide on learning to walk from Frazee, one of my favorite illustrators: “Is sitting there on your bottom getting boring? Has lying around all the time become entirely unacceptable? . . . It is time to learn how to walk!” Frazee then provides some handy-dandy tips for our puerile protagonist, and she pretty much nails the range of expressions that come from an emerging toddler (you really need to see the tantrum). This book works on several levels. Frazee even dedicates it to her son, off to college. And it could even work for him and others facing a grand, new challenge (“Only begin when you are ready. Important! Don’t look down at your feet. Look toward where you want to go. Imagine yourself as already there” and “Ooops. It is very common to fall down. Hey, it’s okay. Go ahead and cry if it helps {wonderful aforementioned tantrum illustration here}. Feel better now?”). But thank goodness it really, truly is baby-centered. If it were one of those schmaltzy adult books really disguised as a children’s book, I’d not even be talking about it here. I mean, you can’t mistake “is your diaper weighing you down?” (part of the checklist before you get up and move) for some symbolic inspirational adult message of any sort, though most of the text can work that way. Frazee’s illustrations were done in black pencil and gouache with mostly muted colors (save for the baby’s yellow socks and the bright yellow, daunting living room s/he must make it through); there’s much movement here and nice lines and Frazee’s usual spot-on composition. This one’s a charmer, and those older preschoolers who love to talk about their lives as babies will delight in this title.

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  • What?Silly Suzy Goose by Petr Horacek
  • About? — Suzy Goose realizes one day that she’s just like everybody else, and she longs to be different, observing the particular peculiarities of other animals and trying to emulate them. When she meets a lion, tries to roar like him, and then promptly finds herself his prey, she runs back to her geese gang and realizes sometimes it’s better to be like others.
  • Why It’s Worth Reading — Normally, I’d run screaming from any book, particularly for children, with the line, “perhaps it is better to be just like everybody else . . .” No, no, don’t conform! Don’t do it! But, fear not. In the very end, she adds, “but not always” and produces her new, unique “Rroarrhonk!” for the gang. It’s a spare, well-written story of self-acceptance, and that’s a nice thing. And Horacek’s illustrations, rendered in mixed-media and cut-paper collage, impress; I can’t help but think of early Eric Carle when I see this book with the bold colors and seemingly simple lines and various textures (please, please go here, scroll down, and see what I mean with those twelve wonderful illustrations). One little wish I have, though, regarding this book (warning: NERD ALERT! NERD ALERT!) — I wish he had used the proper grammar, “If I were . . .” and not “If I was . . .” (“If I was . . .” is a repeated refrain), the counterfactual conditional subjunctive, to expose myself as the Big Honkin’ Nerd that I am. I know, I know, but I believe we need to use that grammar well so that the wee ones will learn how to express themselves eloquently in the world of instant-messaging (this, you see, is why I say duuuuude all the time). Perhaps saying “If I was . . .” is acceptable since the last time I looked. Anyway, I know I’m being an insufferable nerd, and since I know it, no hate mail is necessary. Don’t miss this one, especially for the lovely illustrations.

  • 10 comments to “What do peas, palindromes,
    promenading pigs, puerile perseverance,
    and one’s particular peculiarities have in common?”

    1. oh, yes. i have seen child’s “princess and the pea.” i am in love with it. i always love her art and sense of humor, but now there’s actual real tiny diorama things! that bowl of peas at the end kills me.

      i totally dig that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – or bowl of peas – though.

    2. I love the cover of the Princess and the Pea!

    3. Nancy, I’m glad you do. I like a good debate. Just too much pink for me — and that shade. Ick. And the composition. And the choice of the mirror with a chandelier. Maybe it’s not so much what they chose but what they didn’t choose — in other words, a more riveting, more interesting scene could have been chosen. Someone talk me into liking the cover!

      Thanks for commenting….

    4. Your objections to “Silly Suzy Goose” mirror my own exactly. Don’t fret it. It seems downright bizarre to me that an editor wouldn’t have changed the grammar in that puppy. I mean, sure Petr Horacek’s first language wasn’t English, but for such a nice book it sure shot itself in the foot with all that “If I was” business.

    5. Actually, I think that “is your diaper weighing you down?” CAN be read for some symbolic inspirational adult message, ie, “is sh*t (or crap if you prefer) weighing you down?” I totally thought the book was begging to be one of those wisdom-in-the-words-of-babes books. Esp. when you consider the subtitle and the author’s dedication to her son in college.

      Like your other book choices, though I haven’t seen Mom and Dad Are Palindromes yet.

    6. i hadn’t even considered that, MotherReader — the possible diaper meaning, that is. it’ll be interesting to see if this one gets purchased and handed around as, say, a high school graduation gift or some such thing . . . my 2 and 1/2 year old finds it squealingly funny, so that’s at least one child who indicates it succeeds as a good child-centered one, too. in fact, she laughs over the illustrations alone.

      i hope you like ‘Mom and Dad are Palindromes.’ i finally just saw his illustrations for ‘oh no, not ghosts!’ ….wow, he’s talented.

    7. Jules,

      Thanks for these great reviews!

      I LOVED Walk On! as a totally entertaining reminder to our young ones of how much they have accomplished already and how the “try,try,try again” attitude that they were born with has already worked so effectively.

      I guess that’s sappy, but I love it anyway!


    8. Andrea, yes, it’s good. I love Marla Frazee’s work. I was happy to get a copy of this in the mail today for our Cybil picture book work. My daughter was happy, too. She’s 2 and 1/2 and thinks it’s very funny to read about babies like this.

    9. […] at the end of last month. Sylvie’s story has a lot in common with Petr Horáček’s Silly Suzy Goose (from ‘06): Sylvie, the wee flamingo, looks at her family one morning, all very pink, and […]

    10. […] Chicken, The Lima Bean Monster, Halloween Night, Martin MacGregor’s Snowman, Oh No, Not Ghosts!, Mom and Dad are Palindromes, June & August, The […]

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