February 16, 2017
(++++) SHAPES AND SIZES
Round. By Joyce Sidman. Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99.
Carrot & Pea. By Morag Hood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.
A poetic celebration of circles and spheres, Joyce Sidman’s Round offers kids a way to find the wondrousness in everyday things, from seeds to eggs to oranges. “My hands want to reach around their curves,” says the little girl narrator as she embarks on a journey into roundness, in which Sidman’s sweet and simple language is nicely matched by Taeeun Yoo’s pleasant illustrations of things that are “swelling into roundness” (mushrooms) or “budding, ripening” (blueberries). The little girl – sometimes alone, sometimes with a grown-up – explores not only small and transitory things but also large ones whose roundness comes only after millions and millions of years: rocks, shown as jagged peaks along the seashore in one illustration and gently rounded stone hillocks in the next one, after “all the sharp edges wear off.” From a dung beetle rolling its precious ball along to the round spots on a ladybug, from pipe-blown soap bubbles to rain-caused “circles of ripples” in a pond, roundness is everywhere in this little girl’s world – and the gentle word cascade and pleasantly involving pictures invite readers to find all that is round in their own environment as well. At the back of the book, Sidman gives a sweet and simple, but scientifically accurate, guide to the reasons so many things in nature are round: round eggs and seeds have evenly distributed weight that helps prevent stress from being too great on any single point; round nuts and fruits scatter better because they can roll along farther to start forming new plants; planets are round because of the way gravity works; and so on. “Round things are snug, symmetrical, cosmic,” writes Sidman, and Round itself is a snug little exploration of the circular and spherical, a warm touch of joy in the everyday, and an invitation to explore and be fascinated by all the shapes that sur-round all of us.
Peas are round, too, and they are green, and they roll and they bounce and play games together in Morag Hood’s Carrot & Pea. But one particular pea, Lee, happens to have a friend who cannot do the things that all the other peas can do – because this friend, Colin, is not a pea but a carrot. How did they ever meet? Who knows? What matters is that they did meet, and somehow became friends despite their obvious differences and Colin’s inability to, for example, play hide-and-seek (because his large size and orange color make him instantly findable). Poor Colin? Well, no, because Hood shows the ways in which Colin does fit into pea play: he becomes a tower on which Lee and the other peas can perch; he makes himself a bridge over a gap too large for peas to cross; and, propped up by peas on one end, he becomes a slope down which other peas can slide. Colin seems not to fit in, but in reality he does, in his own way, and all the peas celebrate having him around and pile themselves up to reach high enough to give him a pea-utiful hug. Carrot & Pea could all too easily have been a heavy-handed sermon about celebrating differences and accepting those who are not like you, but Hood’s touch is too deft for that: her very simple collage illustrations, against a plain white background, maintain the same light tone that her easy-to-follow writing introduces, with the result that the friendship of Colin and Lee seems the most natural thing in the world. And that is a much better way to offer a lesson in tolerance than to lay it on thickly and with a slew of moral and ethical demands. The fact that many young readers of Carrot & Pea are likely to know peas and carrots as an enjoyable food combination makes it even more natural to think about how irrelevant the differences between Colin and Lee are. And the irrelevance of differences is a far better teaching point than the more-typical demand to focus on differences and then make a conscious effort to see beyond them. Colin and Lee have the right idea. And so does Hood.