April 10, 2014

(++++) OH, BABY!

Farmer Dale’s Red Pickup Truck. By Lisa Wheeler. Illustrated by Ivan Bates. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

Reasons My Kid Is Crying. By Greg Pembroke. Three Rivers Press. $15.

     The littlest children – or rather the littlest ones with enough attention span to handle a read-aloud book – will have a simply wonderful time with the new board-book version of Lisa Wheeler’s Farmer Dale’s Red Pickup Truck, originally published in 2004. A rollicking rhyming story with a lot more going on than is usual in a board book, and with Ivan Bates illustrations that amplify the fun and keep the pace quick, Wheeler’s poetic tale relates the far-from-simple journey of Farmer Dale (a dog) to town with a load of hay. It seems that various animals keep getting in the way of the truck – first a bossy cow, then a woolly sheep, then a “roly pig,” a goat with an accordion, and…well, at this point the truck, in which Farmer Dale has been obligingly giving all the animals a lift to town, is so overloaded that it can no longer move. How it gets out of that mess – with the assistance of still more animals – is the subject of the remainder of the book, as Wheeler’s poetic cadences keep the story moving even when the truck cannot. “The truck bounced up. The springs all popped./ The bumper bumped. The pickup stopped.” The animals here actually have personalities, in the writing as well as the illustrations: “The pickup rocked and rumbled./ It rolled an inch or so./ ‘It’s moooving!’ shouted Bossy Cow./ The rooster crowed, ‘Too slow!’” For that matter, the truck itself has a personality: “The pickup bounced and shimmied./ It groaned and squeaked and wheezed./ It spit a thankful cloud of smoke/ and started with a sneeze.” Kids from babies to toddlers not only will enjoy the rhymes but also will have fun finding out, at the book’s end, that everyone was heading to town for a talent contest. That explains the goat with the accordion!

     Now, what explains the many and varied expressions of dismay, anger and all-around angst on the faces of the entirely human babies in the (+++) Reasons My Kid Is Crying? Based on Greg Pembroke’s Tumblr blog – whoever thought the Internet would kill printed books did not reckon with this sort of cross-pollination – the book features many dozens of photos of many dozens of boy and girl toddlers, all in the “easy meltdown” age range, all melting down for reasons that run from the possibly real to the entirely fanciful. For a little girl with a scrunched-up face: “She’s not allowed to eat garbage out of the garbage can.” Boy in a highchair: “He threw his dinner on the floor and now he wants to eat.” Boy with two fingers in his mouth and a pained expression: “He wanted to wear socks and flip-flops.” (And that would be terrible…why?) Girl with face and bib coated in spaghetti sauce or something equally red and messy: “I told her that I had to wash her face after dinner.” Little boy next to adult woman who is holding the handle of a sharp tool: “His aunt wouldn’t let him play with this ax.” Boy standing in pool: “Water got on his bathing suit.” Boy in kitchen: “I wouldn’t let him eat this unsweetened cocoa powder by the spoonful.” Boy near television set: “We turned on his favorite show the minute he asked us to.” Enough already? But there is more, much more, some of it funny, some of it mildly witty (but not very witty), some of it silly and some of it instantly recognizable by any parent of a current or former toddler. The problem is that there is much more of this, and a book with an endless parade of unhappy children’s faces, contorted and/or in tears, comes across very differently from a blog into which computer users can dip briefly and from which they can quickly depart at will. True, it is possible to read just a few pages of Reasons My Kid Is Crying and then put it aside, coming back to it later, but this is a book with very few words and a lot of pictures, clearly meant to be read quickly, and the whole point of it – to the extent that it has a point – is to show how many different ways kids of a certain age melt down. The totality of the thing turns out to be more depressing than funny: do you really want to see page after page of young children in full evidence of misery, even if they show it theatrically and even if you know (as you will if you are a parent) that the “slights” are minor and the kids’ tantrums short-lived? A little of Reasons My Kid Is Crying goes a long way, and it is easier to engage with just a little of this sort of thing online than in book form. Still, fans of the blog are likely to enjoy seeing some of the postings in a high-quality printed book. Some of them.

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