October 06, 2011


Everything Goes: On Land. By Brian Biggs. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $14.99.

I Will Not Read This Book. By Cece Meng. Illustrated by Joy Ang. Clarion. $16.99.

     One way to pull reluctant readers into books is by giving them a lot to look at rather than, or in addition to, a lot of words. And there is a lot to see in Brian Biggs’ Everything Goes: On Land, which combines illustrative complexity with a very simple story line (father and son driving to railroad station to pick up mother) and a lot of mini-narratives that keep popping up in the super-busy pages (birds wearing hats or wishing they had them, a stuck car that may or may not have a dead battery, and so on). This is a book that names everything – on one page, “electric car,” “antique car,” “hatchback,” “station wagon,” “very large car” and so on; on another, “mountain bike,” “commuter bike,” “road-racer bikes,” “bicycle built for two,” “unicycle” and others; and so on. Some pages show details of particular vehicles – a long-haul truck or a bicycle, for example. While all this is on display, so are the numbers 1 through 100 – finding them is fun – and there is an ongoing ice-cream saga (different people prefer different flavors) to go with the constant snippets of humor: labels for a recreational vehicle identify “driver & passenger” and “Miss Kitty,” and a white rabbit barely misses a subway train and worries, in rhyme, “Oh wait! I’m late! I can’t believe my fate!” Throughout the drive, the father explains the sights: “That’s an electric high-speed train. That small one is a switch car, or shunter. It’s used to assemble trains and move railroad cars around in a switchyard.” Near the end of the journey, there are two facing pages that fold out to produce the equivalent of a four-page spread of the bustling area near the railroad station, where there are huge numbers of people and a wide variety of vehicles to see. Everything Goes: On Land is a book that will captivate even kids who do not usually pay much attention to books: there are so many narratives and so much to see that the whole thing is just plain fun, and the busy-ness (reminiscent of the books of Richard Scarry) is enjoyable in and of itself. The father’s explanations, although they provide the main flow of information, can wait for a second, third or fourth reading if they seem too matter-of-fact for a child’s taste. There is plenty to see here and plenty to do without focusing too much on the words – those can always be the focus during a later visit to Biggs’ world.

     There won’t be even one reading of a book if the boy in I Will Not Read This Book has his way. He is the reluctant reader par excellence, being absolutely determined not to read the book he is carrying. Period. The complexity here is not in the story line, not in the illustrations, but in the “house that Jack built” piling-up of the boy’s strong statements of determination not to read (which he begins producing after coming up with as many delaying tactics as possible). The boy says forthrightly why he won’t read the book: “Reading is hard and I don’t read fast and sometimes there are words I don’t know.” So he creates a scenario explaining how determined he is not to read – he will not read “even if you hang me upside down by one toe” with a variety of things going on: being suspended over a cliff, with a monkey tickling his feet, during a rainstorm, with lightning above and sharks below and a dragon nearby and so on and so forth. As he adds each new element, the boy repeats all the previous ones; that is the “house that Jack built” (or “Twelve Days of Christmas”) narrative approach. In this case, it also helps the boy delay any thought of reading for a longer and longer time. But then…well, at the very end, where we see the boy laughing as his mom plays with him, he confesses that maybe, just maybe, he will read the book after all – if she reads it with him. And that is the whole point of Cece Meng’s story: the boy may have lots of bad reasons for refusing to read, but he has one good one for agreeing to do so…and parents can and should take note. Joy Ang’s illustrations amusingly highlight the absurdities of the boy’s protests, making it clear that there is no reason to take the sharks or dragon (or bright-blue monkey) very seriously. But parents who do take their children’s reading seriously will get a lot out of this book – a fine go-to volume when kids’ reading reluctance turns into out-and-out refusal.

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