April 17, 2014
(++++) SIMPLE AND SWEET
Peanut Butter and Jellyfish. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $16.99.
Peek-a-Boo Bunny. By Holly Surplice. Harper. $9.99.
For the earliest readers, meaning from around age three or four up to age seven or eight, simple, straightforward stories with a touch of humor can have a great deal of impact – and can influence kids’ interest in learning to read more-complex books over time. Peanut Butter and Jellyfish has Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s usual slightly skewed view of the world, along with his oddball drawings: Peanut Butter, a seahorse, does look somewhat like a real seahorse; but Jellyfish, a, well, jellyfish, has a big, irregularly oval head with huge smiling mouth and big eyes, and some sort-of-tentacles trailing behind. The point here is not verisimilitude, of course: this is a simple story of friendship and of what to do if someone is not very nice to you but is basically an all-right character. That someone is Crabby, who is true to his name, sitting on a rock and taunting the two friends as they swim past: “You guys swim like humans!” “I’ve seen sea snails swim with more style.” That sort of thing. But then Crabby gets in trouble: he gets caught in a lobster trap (which Krosoczka shows being tossed into the water not during the story but beforehand, on the inside front cover). Crabby, being lifted toward the surface, admits he is frightened, and the two friends realize they have to help him even though he has never been nice to them. So Peanut Butter and Jellyfish unlock the cage – and when Crabby admits he cannot swim and is afraid of heights, they untie the trap from the rope holding it and lower it gently to the ocean floor (leaving the fisherman, who reappears on the inside back cover, looking unhappy and bewildered). Crabby is safe, he “was brave enough to apologize” for all the unkind things he has said, and now there are three friends happily exploring the ocean. Clearly having a moral but not told in a moralistic tone, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish is easy and enjoyable to read and look at, and makes its point both gently and firmly.
There is no ethical point in Holly Surplice’s Peek-a-Boo Bunny, but this too is a simple, nicely told story with a twist. The whole book is about Bunny being “it” in a game of hide-and-seek – and repeatedly missing the hiding places of his friends, because he is so enthusiastic about the game and, it must be said, so unobservant, despite attempts by his friend Mole to help him. Mole, for example, points to Turtle hiding among some rocks, but Bunny “rushes by and speeds right past.” As Owl flies directly overhead, Surplice writes, “Bunny searching on the ground –/ if only he would turn around!” But again and again, Bunny is in the right place but not focused on locating his friends. Eventually “his smile is turning to a frown,” but just then, all the other animals come out of hiding and shout, “Peek-a-Boo!” And everything ends with smiles and a little Bunny-and-Mole dance that is especially charmingly drawn. Peek-a-Boo Bunny is particularly easy to read, and the very simple rhymes are fun for young children – or adults – to say aloud. Early readers will soon move beyond the book, but until they do, they will be charmed by Bunny’s misadventures and likely want to enjoy them again and again.