January 26, 2017


A Greyhound, a Groundhog. By Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Chris Appelhans. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.

What This Story Needs Is a Bang and a Clang. By Emma J. Virján. Harper. $9.99.

     Simple, sweet, and celebratory of the power of both friendship and language, Emily Jenkins’ A Greyhound, a Groundhog has no plot at all – and does not need one. It is all word play interpreting animal play, starting right on the first page, which says, in totality, “A hound. A round hound.” Chris Appelhans’ picture shows a greyhound curled tightly into a circle, not identifiable as a dog, much less a dog of a specific type. But by the next page, the hound unfolds, all long-necked elegance; and on the page after that, there is nothing to be seen but a hole in the ground – with the words, “A hog. A round hog.” And then, on the following page, the groundhog appears, and once that happens, the two soon-to-be-friends stretch and yawn in their own individual ways, and the text starts to mix things up verbally: “A groundhog, a greyhound, a grey little round hound.” Play and good-natured chasing ensue, the illustrations bursting with lively activity and the text shaped to match the action, as when words are typeset vertically and in curves to accompany a scene of the two friends chasing each other (or themselves) in circles. This is a perfect read-aloud book, because the words’ round sounds abound, all the way until – near the end – some butterflies astound. The book simply ends, since without a plot, there is no particular need for a story arc – and that is just fine, because if ever there was a book likely to make kids ages 3-7 listen all the way through and then clap their hands in joy and say, “Again!” it is this one. Parents had best be prepared to explore this non-narrative story some more and still more, from its open to close…as around and around and around the book goes.

     The easy-to-read “Pig in a Wig” books by Emma J. Virján may not have the panache and sheer exuberance of A Greyhound, a Groundhog, but they have pleasures of their own – including a host of amusing sound effects in What This Story Needs Is a Bang and a Clang. Here the titular pig, wearing her usual high-piled bright red wig, is inspired by musical scores and old-fashioned vinyl records to build a bandstand and prepare “to conduct the Pig in a Wig Band.” As the band members show up, so do their instruments’ sounds: “a twang, a tootle, a ping, a boom, a brup, a jingle, a doom-doom-doom” (the last of those from a plucked double bass). Soon there is a motley but apparently tuneful collection of instruments being played by a variety of animals: bear, dog, cat, monkey, turtle and more with flute, trombone, triangle, cymbals – and a cow brings a cowbell, of course. All is going well until a mouse shows up with “a squeak,” that being the sound of the mouse himself rather than that of his instrument, which is a mouse-sized tuba. The mouse’s appearance frightens the cymbal-playing elephant, and soon all the animals are rushing higgledy-piggledy around the stage with “an EEK, and a SHRIEK,” and other highly unmusical noises. But not to worry: the Pig in a Wig insists that “the show must go on” and must include the mouse, who, after all, only wants to play in the band. So the animals march back to the stage and bring along sounds including “a tish, a tootle, a bwap, and a boom,” and the concert evokes “a clap, clap, clap” from the animals that have helpfully shown up to be the band’s audience. A slight story whose sounds can make it fun to read aloud – or can be fun for early readers to figure out and read on their own – What This Story Needs Is a Bang and a Clang offers good fun and a good sense of the rhythm that words, like music, can have…in their own way.

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