Here is Wednesday’s Radar-Books schedule. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Just getting caught up? Read here for an explanation.
- Big A, little a: The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore
- Bildungsroman: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion, Part 1
- Bookshelves of Doom: Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher
- A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: The President’s Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White
- Chasing Ray: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion, Part 2
- Chicken Spaghetti: Pooja Makhijani guest blogs with Romina’s Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar
- Finding Wonderland: The House on Hound Hill by Maggie Prince
- Interactive Reader: Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly
- Jen Robinson’s Book Page: The Zilpha Keatley Snyder Green Sky trilogy
- lectitans: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion, Part 3
- Miss Erin: The Reb & Redcoats and Enemy Brothers, both by Constance Savery
- Shaken & Stirred: Elizabeth Knox and the Dreamhunter Duet
- Writing & Ruminating: Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Weatherford
And remember that next week will be Picture Book Week here at 7-Imp. Here is another great, new picture book in order to help get you geared up for 7-Imp’s Seven Impossible Posts About Picture Books next week.
This type of rumination might be a) irritating or b) the perfect way to rile up some readers, but I want to boldly say that, of the author/illustrators working today who most reflect the spirit of the Great and Almighty Sendak (whom I worship), Polly Dunbar is right up there at the top of that list. And I say “irritating,” since it could well be argued that we don’t need to be looking for Sendak imitators, but that’s not what I’m getting at — Dunbar also manages to have a style all her own. But not only do her line drawings have the loose, relaxed, uncluttered child-centered appeal of Sendak’s early work (think the Ruth Krauss titles he illustrated), but with this new title of hers, in particular (Penguin, released by Candlewick this past June; my source: review copy), she doesn’t tiptoe around the fears of children (Sendak’s greatest strength of all his many superpowers) with her child-chompin’ blue lion. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain a bit more about the book . . .
There’s a lot of humor here, if you can’t already tell with that droll cover illustration. On the title page, we see a present reserved just for a young boy named Ben. Still clad in his pajamas, Ben appears on page one, opening his package and finding a penguin inside. Excited, he greets the penguin and asks if they should play and if he can talk — to which “Penguin said nothing” (a repeated refrain in the book). Tickling him, making his funniest face, putting on a happy hat, singing a silly song, doing a “dizzy dance,” standing on his head — none of this works. Penguin just keeps staring at him with his penguin poker face. Bossy Ben (that is, bossy as toddlers naturally are) gets a tad bit irritated and starts to prod him and stick his tongue out at him and make fun of him and imitate him. Guess what Penguin says? Nothing. In the book’s funniest spread, Ben fires Penguin into outer space, and “Penguin came back to Earth without a word,” Dunbar showing this with arc-shaped text (which gets smaller and smaller at the top) and Penguin’s trajectory into space and back. After that, a (very Sendak-ian) blue lion walks by. With Penguin’s expression staying exactly the same (heh), Ben tries to feed him to the lion. When Lion opts not to eat Penguin, Ben throws a pretty impressive tantrum, culminating in the loud command, “SAY SOMETHING!” After a short pause, Lion simply eats Ben for being too noisy. Chomp. And, as the lion sits there, pretty impressed with his meal, Penguin bites him hard on the nose in defense of poor Ben, thus spitting Ben out and prompting Penguin to say “everything!”
But you have to see the spread which serves as Penguin’s “everything”: While Ben stares in rapt delight, Penguin lets loose an insta-rebus speech bubble in a sudden burst of eloquence with very primitive drawings, as if a child would convey it, of exactly everything Ben and the Penguin experienced together (throwing in the moon and some stars for good measure, since he did take that brief trip into outer space — a little detail of the spread that I think made me do a spit-take with my coffee when I first saw it. Pretty funny stuff here).
Giving Penguin a huge hug, even picking him up off the floor, Ben — on the book’s final page — finally gets his heart’s very desire, and Penguin expresses a simple, red heart in his final speech bubble.
Dunbar’s Ben is quite expressive (what with his huge array of emotions on display here), all done with her commanding use of a simple black line (Ben’s eyes are simple, black dots, yet Dunbar’s impressive visual storytelling via Ben ranges from vulnerable to explosive and hits just about every emotion in between). The illustrations are spare, Ben and the bird placed in generous white space, giving center stage to Ben’s antics and our straight man Penguin.
It’s a playful tale full of humor and just the right amount of tenderness.
Here’s to Polly Dunbar, whose titles I’ll line up for any day . . .