June 27, 2013


Sheep in a Jeep Big Book. By Nancy Shaw. Sandpiper. $26.99.

Three Little Kittens Big Book. Illustrated by Paul Galdone. Sandpiper. $26.99.

     In the early days of television, when variety shows filled the airwaves and competed intensely with each other for the big stars and big acts of the day, host Ed Sullivan became famous for telling audiences that he was bringing them a “really big shew” (his pronunciation of “show”). It would take a 21st-century Ed Sullivan to proclaim the bigness of these new books from the Sandpiper imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, because they are really BIG!!!  In fact, they are so big that families had better think before buying them about where exactly they will keep them. They won’t fit in or on bookshelves, are too big for end tables, may make it on some (but not all) coffee tables, and are much too large for small children’s hands to hold. These are books to be read as a family, preferably sprawled on the floor and lying partly on top of the pages, the way some families used to read the Sunday comics sections of newspapers – except that in these books, the ink won’t get on anyone’s clothing.

     These are big, big, big. Really big!!!  Sheep in a Jeep Big Book is 18 inches wide, which means it opens to 36-inch two-page spreads; and it is 18 inches high as well. Three Little Kittens Big Book is also 18 inches wide but is “only” 13¾ inches tall. Both books are quite short – 32 pages apiece – so what we have here, more or less, would be two almost-board-books (in terms of content and story length) blown up to huge proportions so kids and adults alike can revel in the art as well as the words. And that is one of the great pleasures here: the art is huge, and anyone interested in the very skillful illustrations of Nancy Shaw and Paul Galdone will have a wonderful time looking at the minutiae of the pictures here. Indeed, given the size of the pages, there are no minutiae, but there are certainly details aplenty.

     These books – both originally published in 1986 – happen to adapt very well to this unusual format. Sheep in a Jeep is a modern classic in its simply rhymed and very funny story of the sheep going on an outing that turns into one misadventure after another, until eventually “jeep in a heap” is all that is left of their vehicle. Three Little Kittens is the traditional nursery rhyme about lost mittens and pie, illustrated particularly attractively by Galdone in the last year of his life: he gives the three kittens different personalities as well as appearances, and makes them particularly expressive each time they complain with a “meow, meow, meow.” In these huge books, tiny details come through that readers might otherwise miss. In Sheep in a Jeep, there are, for example, the expressions of the small bird that watches the sheep make a mess of things, the befuddled look on the frog displaced from the “gooey mud” into which the jeep goes at one point, and the anchor tattoo on one pig that helps push the jeep out. In Three Little Kittens, some details are the labels for multiple forms of catnip in the kitchen, the changing expression of the decorative cat on the lid of the cookie jar, and the amusing elements of the pictures hanging on the wall of the house.

     These huge Sandpiper volumes are specialty books, to be sure, and some families simply won’t have room for them – maybe not even room to read them, much less to store them. But for families that do have the space, and especially ones in which children already know these stories and enjoy them in normal-size formats, these big-book versions can bring a great deal of pleasure, as well as an excuse to sprawl on the floor somewhere reading and rereading the familiar tales while pointing at this, that and the other enjoyable bit of the art. Big these books emphatically are, not only in size but also in the ways in which young readers can have fun with them.

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