February 18, 2016
(++++) BIRD GAMES
Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek. By Rebecca Ashdown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.
Big Chickie, Little Chickie: A Book of Opposites. By Janee Trasler. HarperFestival. $8.99.
Splat the Cat and the Quick Chicks. By Laura Driscoll. Illustrations by Robert Eberz. Harper. $16.99.
The Happy Egg. By Ruth Krauss. Pictures by Crockett Johnson. Harper. $14.99.
The adorable penguin pals created by Rebecca Ashdown in Bob and Flo are back for another day of fun at preschool in Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek. This time they have fun with a third preschool penguin, Sam. The story is simplicity itself: the three play hide-and-seek, with Flo and Sam looking for Bob – but it turns out that Bob is not very good at hiding, and needs some advice from his friends in order to get better at it. He does, and everyone is happy. The pleasure here is not just in the story but in the way Ashdown tells it. For example, because counting to 20 is hard for preschoolers, “Flo and Sam counted to ten. Twice!” That sounds like just what creative human preschoolers would do. As for the “hiding” issue, Bob is adorably inept, first “hiding” by crossing his flippers in front of his face, then – when his friends say to hide behind something – holding up a small mirror and hiding “behind” it. It is only when Flo and Sam tell Bob to “disappear” that he finally figures out what to do: he builds a wall of blocks in a sort-of-penguin shape and sort-of-penguin colors, and hides behind it. And sure enough, he has managed to disappear. Cute characters, ultra-simple words and just enough activity to be involving for young readers combine to make this second story of penguin pals as much fun as the first one.
The equally adorable “chickies” of Janee Trasler are already the stars of numerous board books, and now there is yet another one – which combines their usual high activity level with a touch of education, in the form of opposites. Pig, Cow and Sheep, the “adult” animals in these books, declare that it is time for some pictures – using, it should be pointed out, an old-fashioned film camera, which may need to be explained to the very young children for whom the book is intended. The “picture” premise gives Trasler a ready way to show the difference between, for example, in and out (the chickies are inside a box of dress-up clothes and then outside it), and little and big (single chickie compared with double – that is, one standing on another). Trasler then plays with readers’ rhyme expectations to make the book funnier; for instance, “Chickies then. Chickies now./ Chickies dance and take a....COW!” That is, not a bow. And to rhyme with “big,” the chickies do not wear a wig – instead, they look at Pig. Readers then expect “leap” to be the rhyme in this water-based sequence: “Chickies shallow. Chickies deep./ Chickies run and jump and.…SHEEP!” Pictures are taken of all the various configurations of the chickies and the “grown-up” animals, and at the end, everyone falls down into a big, laughing pile – a suitably amusing conclusion to a book packed with frenetic activity of all sorts.
There is plenty happening as well in Splat the Cat and the Quick Chicks, which is based on Rob Scotton’s characters but not created by him: it is a Level 1 book in the “I Can Read!” series (featuring “simple sentences for eager new readers”). These are more realistic-looking chicks than Trasler’s, and they behave more realistically, too, although Splat and his best friend, Seymour the mouse, are as human-child-like as usual. The dozen chicks start out as eggs, which Splat takes home from school to watch overnight. But while he sleeps, the eggs hatch – and the chicks get into everything. They are on Splat himself, and cuddled in his socks, and curled up by his old-fashioned alarm clock, and all over Splat’s toys – even, in the case of one chick, “in the paint box. Ick.” Splat finds 11 of the chicks but cannot locate the 12th until it turns up pecking at a basket, then promptly runs away. Splat, Seymour and all the chicks run upstairs, downstairs and all over the house as Splat tries to gather the chicks and also get ready for school. Finally, everyone gets out the door, with the chicks very amusingly trailing Splat and Seymour by using their wings to hold onto an electrical cord (the most unrealistic thing these chicks do, and worth the unreality to see the book’s best picture). Everyone makes it to school safely, but when Splat’s teacher, Mrs. Wimpydimple, counts the chicks, there are only 11 – again, as at Splat’s home, one is missing! However, it soon turns up, hiding behind the apple on the teacher’s desk, and this pleasantly silly story of “quick chicks” comes to an amusing close.
After all that bird-related activity, it is a distinct pleasure to settle back with a bird book that celebrates lack of activity and has a gentler, slower pace. The Happy Egg, originally published in 1967, is by Ruth Krauss (1901-1993), with illustrations by her husband, Crockett Johnson (1906-1975). The book is by no means as well-known as, say, the pair’s The Carrot Seed (1945), but it is quite a charmer in its own right. Republished in 2005 and now available in a new edition, the book starts with a picture showing just a small flower and “a little little bird,” in the form of a blue egg. The egg cannot do anything by itself: “It could just get sat on.” And along comes an obliging white bird to do just that. The bird sits and sits and sits and sits – and the flower grows and grows and grows and grows, a truly wonderful way to show the passage of time. Finally, the little blue bird emerges with a big “POP!” And it does what little birds do – it walks, sings an elaborate tune (with musical stave and G clef), and flies: the left-hand page simply has the word “fly” on it, while the bird is seen at the extreme upper right corner of the right-hand page, and this minimalist approach is an absolute delight. A great contrast to the frenetic nature more common in bird-focused books created for young readers today, The Happy Egg is a joy from start to finish: a very short book offering very long-lasting pleasure.