December 27, 2007


Punk Farm on Tour. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $15.99.

Big and Little. By John Stadler. Robin Corey Books. $9.99.

      It’s all in how you see things. Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s second Punk Farm book continues to play with the idea of barnyard animals as rock stars – that is, animals being a lot more than they seem to be. This is a great message for kids ages 5-8, who are a lot more than they seem to be…and know it. But this isn’t a “message” book at all, except perhaps subliminally. It’s a ton of fun. This time, when Farmer Joe heads off to a tractor convention, the Punk Farm band – Sheep, Cow, Pig, Goat and Chicken – packs up for a road trip as well. Determined to play for their fans around the United States, the animals are hampered by a messed-up, thoroughly unstylish old van and the lack of a big hit to sing. So what? They fix up and paint the van (the flames on the side are a great touch) and head off to Maine – still without a big hit to offer. Then Sheep gets an inspiration and creates a song based on the trip itself – and everyone loves it. So when Punk Farm next heads to Florida – in pouring rain – that becomes a song subject; and when the band has a flat tire on the way to Texas, that is the song topic; and when, on route to their final performance in Colorado (this band really gets around!), the van breaks down completely – well, of course that becomes the subject of their hit song for the final audience. Krosoczka’s illustrations delightfully capture the fun of the concerts and the amusing expressions of the band members. At the end, there’s a race home – the animals want to get there before Farmer Joe, to whom they are of course only animals. And they make it just in time, keeping Farmer Joe’s perspective on things intact while knowing among themselves that they are certainly not what the farmer imagines them to be.

      Things are not what they seem to be in Big and Little, either. An adorable book of foldout pages for ages 3-6, John Stadler’s story has a circus setting and revolves around something that is obviously impossible: an elephant climbing a ladder, high above the audience, and diving into an ordinary glass of water. The mouse ringmaster builds the tension higher and higher all the time, with Stadler cleverly intercutting scenes of the mouse with ones of Ellie, the elephant. That intercutting is crucial to the shift of perspective that Stadler uses to resolve the story in a very amusing finale that proves that things are not necessarily what they appear to be at all. This is not only a clever book but also one from which kids can learn something about trusting (or not trusting) their assumptions. Even after they know the trick, kids can go back through the book, again and again, trying to figure out why they believed one thing when something different was really the case. Stadler’s approach, especially his use of flaps to prevent kids from seeing the characters together until the end, makes the book not only enjoyable and offbeat but also downright clever. Both kids and parents will have fun with this one, simply by keeping the whole thing in perspective.

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