February 08, 2018
Moon: A Peek-Through Picture Book. By Britta Teckentrup. Doubleday. $16.99.
Bob and Joss Take a Hike! By Peter McCleery. Illustrated by Vin Vogel. Harper. $17.99.
The Digger and the Flower. By Joseph Kuefler. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.
The quiet and not-so-quiet events of a typical night are portrayed in lovely pictures and pleasantly rhyming text in Britta Teckentrup’s Moon. This is a “peek-through” book for the simple reason that cutouts in the pages let young readers peek through them at the moon – the differing cutout shapes showing the orb in many of its phases. Or, to put it another way, the cutouts let the moon peek through into the different scenes. The cover cutout is crescent-shaped, and as the pages progress, the moon becomes a sliver, then a crescent again, then a waxing gibbous, and eventually a full and bright circle. And then it shrinks back, page after page, as the cutouts get smaller and smaller. While this happens, Teckentrup’s illustrations show animals in various moonlit locations. For example: “A breeze blows softly across the land,/ Rippling through the desert sand./ A scorpion scuttles through the night,/ Glowing with an eerie light.” These two pages show coyotes, rabbits, a snake and, yes, a scorpion, all amid cacti and sand and with the scorpion having bright blue color highlights. On another page, “Far away, in a land harsh and bare,/ Puffins shiver in the cold night air.” And there are birds flying south – guided by the moon – and other birds, parrots, flitting about a tropical jungle. The full moon shines over “hundreds of turtles [that] swim to land/ To lay their eggs in the soft white sand.” In complete contrast, a new moon provides darkness that allows a field mouse to forage. And so the story goes, in scene after moonlit scene, letting young readers imagine what may be happening right outside their own homes as the moon cycles through its real-world courses.
Matters are equally outdoorsy, but more amusing and a great deal sillier, in Peter McCleery’s Bob and Joss Take a Hike! The title characters are two typically mismatched friends: serious, easily worried, brown-haired Bob and free-spirited Joss, whose eyes are never seen because his blond hair falls down over them. The story starts with the two boys camping, Joss enjoying himself toasting marshmallows (as a curious bird perches on his head) while Bob paces in a circle complaining about being bored. That complaint turns out to be a mistake, because Joss suggests that the two should take a hike, Bob decides that is a good idea as long as they have a map, and they realize after setting out that Joss, of course, has forgotten the map. The result is a series of misadventures in choosing the wrong trail, going up and down hillsides (elevation figures are provided), and doing a variety of things that make no sense (e.g., dancing and walking in a funny way). Bob becomes increasingly scared – and increasingly insect-bitten. Joss takes everything in stride (despite the fact that his shoes are perpetually untied) and the insects avoid him. The two boys’ differing personalities, and the way Vin Vogel shows their different reactions to being lost, provide the humor in Bob and Joss Take a Hike! For instance, Bob complains that they have apparently been walking in circles, and Joss says, “I don’t think so. It feels more like a rectangle. Or maybe a trapezoid.” Eventually the boys end up on a clifftop with a spectacular view, so the hike has scarcely been a total waste; but their trek then continues to such a point that Bob gets hungry enough to eat a bug. Before he can do that, though (the insect looks distinctly alarmed at the prospect), Joss discovers that he had the map in his pocket all along, and they are close to their campsite. So all ends happily, despite Bob now being completely covered in bites and scratches. In fact, while Joss again has a critter perched on his head (a squirrel), so does Bob (the cricket he was about to eat). It turns out that a good time was had by all.
Outdoor life gets a different kind of treatment in Joseph Kuefler’s The Digger and the Flower, because here it initially seems that nature is not to be experienced and enjoyed but to be modified and manipulated. Digger is one of three big trucks – the others are Crane and Dozer – that go out together every morning to build “tall buildings for working.” Focused and industrious, they also create “roads for driving and bridges for crossing,” helping a city grow and prosper all around them. But Digger is a bit different from his colleagues. When they take a break, he rolls over on his treads to “something in the rubble,” which turns out to be a small blue flower that “was tiny, but it was beautiful.” Digger visits the flower day after day, and the scenes of this big piece of machinery watering it and shielding it from wind are charming: Kuefler gives Digger expressive eyes and other sort-of-facial features. Digger even sings the flower bedtime songs – how he does so is unclear and irrelevant – and watches over it until “every space had been filled” in the building of the city, and it is time to fill the space where the flower grows. Digger cannot stop progress, if it is progress, and Dozer plows ahead as Digger sheds a tear for the flower. But then he notices something: seeds! And Digger scoops them up, takes them far, far from the city, and “tuck[s] the seeds into the warm earth.” Then the seeds sprout, and again Digger waters the plants, shields them from wind, and sings to them at night – leading to a final, wordless illustration contrasting the fully developed, stark black-and-white-and-grey city with the small blue flowers dotting the landscape away from the road and the tall buildings. The Digger and the Flower does not suggest that there is anything wrong with cities or with buildings – only that there is, there needs to be, a place for the beauties of the natural world as well. Digger learns that on his own, and his story is a sweet and not overly preachy way of teaching the lesson to children.