December 14, 2017
(++++) FUN WITH MANY WORDS – OR FEW
Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf. By Ross Burach. Harper. $17.99.
Meow! By Victoria Ying. Harper. $15.99.
Both these books are for ages 4-8, but the way they tell their animal-centric stories could not be more different. Ross Burach’s Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf really is a story, a narrative. The illustrations are an integral part of it, and some of them are marvelously funny, but the basic tale here is a verbal one. It starts with Boof, a big, roly-poly bear cub who is afraid of bears (adult ones, anyway) and therefore carries around a can of anti-bear spray. Boof collects and names things, such as a stick named Mr. Stick and a rock named Mr. Rock. His favorite collectible is a bright red leaf with which he plays constantly, but not very successfully: despite Boof’s enthusiastic urging, the leaf cannot use a see-saw, throw a ball, or munch a campfire-cooked marshmallow. Enter Pine, a porcupine – who in fact enters by banging into Boof as Boof sits teary-eyed on the forest path. Boof is crying because the wind has suddenly picked up and taken his favorite leaf who-knows-where. Pine, who considers himself an expert on lots of things but is mostly rather muddled in his thinking, promises to help Boof find the missing leaf, and the two set off on a leaf quest that leads to some very funny encounters with a boar and a snake. Burach’s illustrations are at their best during the search, as when Boof lifts up a boulder to look for the leaf under it and Pine then lifts up boulder-shaped Boof to look for the leaf under him. A stuck-in-a-log scenario eventually and hilariously ensues, but in the end, the wind is just too much for the intrepid duo. However, they realize that having a friend to search for things with and generally play with is better than having a leafy companion, anyway. So all ends happily, with Pine and Boof cooking apology pancakes for the boar and making a very amusing apology card for the snake. This is a funny story, amusingly told and illustrated with cartoonish panache, with the pictures carrying a lot of the humor but the words being central to telling the tale.
Not so in Victoria Ying’s Meow! In fact, the word of the title is almost the only one in this sweet little feline-focused book, which is such a simple story that multiple words really are not required. An adorable little kitten, childlike in being dressed like a human and drawn by Ying with a head as large as the rest of his body, wanders around the family home carrying a ball of yellow yarn and asking everyone, “Meow?” This clearly means, “Will you play with me?” But nobody will: mom is busy in the garden, dad in the kitchen, and sister in a chair, where she is reading a book. Frustrated, the kitten starts to unravel the yarn ball and play by himself – but what he does is to entangle everything and everyone in the yarn, as the word “meow!” gets angrier and angrier (cleverly shown by the style of the lettering, which mirrors the expressions on the kitten’s face). Mom, dad and sister finally band together to stop the kitten from messing everything up, putting him in a time-out with their own obviously very irritated “Meow!!” The sad little kitten apologizes – the same word serves a new purpose this time – and sets about disentangling everything and cleaning up the mess he has made. Then he helps mom in the garden, helps dad bake mouse-shaped cookies, and sits in the chair with his sister to read her book with her. Then everyone gets together for games with the yarn, after which it is get-ready-for-bed time in a household that is clearly much happier than it was earlier. The various expressions of “meow” eventually end with the kitten happily asleep, purring with contentment, his ball of yarn beside him on the pillow. Ying does a lovely job of making what is essentially a single-word book into one expressing a wide variety of recognizable emotions and feelings, showing that while some stories are best told through a whole series of words, others can be just as well expressed with very little in the way of verbal elements.