September 20, 2007


A Big Treasury of Little Animals. Photographs by Phoebe Dunn. Text by Judy Dunn Spangenberg. Random House. $10.99.

Fly Guy #4: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy. By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

      Six sweet animal stories dating back as far as three decades are collected in A Big Treasury of Little Animals. The oldest is The Little Duck, originally published in 1976. The others are The Little Lamb (1977), The Little Rabbit (1980), The Little Kitten (1983), The Little Puppy (1984), and The Little Pig (1987). All follow the same approach: a young child encounters a baby animal, helps it grow, and bonds with it. Animals that belong in the wild, such as the duck, are returned there, while domesticated ones, such as the kitten and puppy, become loved members of the family. The text by Judy Dunn Spangenberg is straightforward, formulaic and a little syrupy; it is the photos that are the big attraction here. Phoebe Dunn was famous for her pictures of children and animals, and this collection shows why. She beautifully captures a little girl in the tall grass, one eye visible as she looks around, the other hidden by greenery. She shows a puppy buried up to its head in leaves, a kitten climbing out of a dresser drawer, and the endearing ugliness of a just-hatched duckling, with consummate artistry and loving skill. The scenes of a family visit to a grandfather’s lakeside home, of a kitten climbing into an old-fashioned can of flour and knocking it over, of a mother rabbit scrunched down on the straw in her hutch, look like Norman Rockwell visions of times long gone. Indeed, they are so different from what many families experience today that it is a good thing to have photographic evidence of these sylvan and home-focused scenes, just to prove that they did exist. A Big Treasury of Little Animals will be a real treat for very young children, who may not even care about the stories as they look at the wonderful pictures. Slightly older kids should enjoy finding out where the animals came from and how the families in the book interacted with them. But after a while, these lovely little scenes are likely to be found lacking by kids seeking something with a bit more of an edge.

      At that point, they may gravitate to the Fly Guy series, which is just edgy enough to be fun and just funny enough to keep young readers interested. The fourth book in Tedd Arnold’s sequence is loosely based on the old rhyme, “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.” But it’s actually less grotesque. The original rhyme explains that the lady swallowed this after that after this after that, each animal bigger than the one before, always with the recurring chorus, “Perhaps she’ll die.” Then the rhyme ends with her swallowing a horse: “She’s dead, of course.” This is apparently too upsetting, or insufficiently politically correct, for modern kids…or something. In any case, Arnold doesn’t go nearly that far. He has Buzz, the boy who has adopted Fly Guy as a pet, visit Grandma – and of course Fly Guy goes along, too, only to get knocked by accident into Grandma’s mouth and down her gullet. Fly Guy is starting to fly out when Grandma starts swallowing other things: spider, bird, cat and so on. She is about to swallow a horse when Fly Guy cries, “BUZZ,” and of course Buzz recognizes his name, and Fly Guy flies out of Grandma, and everything else comes out, too, and everything ends happily – if ridiculously. Kids who know the original nonsense rhyme will enjoy this book more than ones who have never heard it. Parents, refresh your memory (or find the original on the Internet) and help your children get more fun from Fly Guy!

No comments:

Post a Comment