April 30, 2015


Tell Me What to Dream About. By Giselle Potter. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.

Home Tweet Home. By Courtney Dicmas. Doubleday. $16.99.

There’s No Such Thing as Little. By LeUyen Pham. Knopf. $17.99.

     Viewpoints matter. In Giselle Potter’s Tell Me What to Dream About, a little girl asks her big sister to help her come up with dreams so she can fall asleep. And big sister obliges, suggesting a dream about a breakfast of teeny-tiny waffles shared with teeny-tiny animals. But from little sister’s point of view, the little animals would be crawling all over the waffles – what kind of relaxing dream is that? So big sister suggests a dream about regular-size animals, but with little sister herself being a giant, keeping the animals as pets and listening to their “funny squeaky voices.” This does not work from little sister’s viewpoint, though: she doesn’t like the idea of “squeaky pets.” Again and again, big sister tries to come up with pleasant, enjoyable dream scenes, but again and again, the girls’ points of view conflict. A furry world? But furry friends might be scary! Living in the fluffy clouds and riding them around? “The big sister liked her own idea a lot,” but little sister thinks it would be scary living so high up. Nothing works, and eventually big sister gets too tired to think of anything further – at which point she comes up with a simple, homespun idea that both sisters like so much that they both fall asleep immediately. The underlying notion here is an old one, along the lines of “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” even in dreams. Parents may find that worth thinking about when kids ask for help going to sleep: flights of fancy may appeal to adult and older-child minds, but sometimes it is the down-to-earth, straightforward ideas that littler children find most comforting.

     Speaking of humble homes, one of them is where 10 cave swallows live in Courtney Dicmas’ Home Tweet Home. The two biggest of the distinctive and distinctly odd-looking birds (Dicmas’ illustrations are simultaneously simple and elaborate – and very amusing) are Burt and Pippi, both of whom have had enough of sharing a small nest with eight littler siblings. After all, one of the small birds, Rupert, has stinky feet, and another, Maude, practices judo, and a third, Cecil, engages in band practice that involves both cymbals and bagpipes. It is all just too much for any small nest to contain! So one night, Burt and Pippi set off in search of a better, more-spacious place for the family to live. And sure enough, they find one – or think they do. It is indeed big and sturdy, but, uh-oh, it turns out to be the shell of a large tortoise. And while the tortoise is friendly and invites the birds to live with him, Burt and Pippi realize this is not quite what they had in mind, so their quest must continue. And continue it does, with a series of equally unsatisfactory results. From being “almost lunch” when encountering one animal to being highly surprised when an apparent island turns out to be part of an octopus, Burt and Pippi find, again and again, that there just isn’t anyplace better than the nest where they already live. Even a kangaroo’s pouch “isn’t what I thought it would be,” Burt laments, while a snake’s coils are “squishy” and a fox has a soft and lovely tail but looks at the birds distinctly hungrily. So eventually the two explorers have no choice but to return home – but instead of being dejected, they are happy, having learned that the fact that the world is so big “makes coming home so much better,” even to a place with stinky feet, martial arts, bagpipes and eight littler siblings. Lesson learned.

     The lesson of LeUyen Pham’s There’s No Such Thing as Little is encapsulated in the book’s title: what one person sees as “little,” another can see as something else entirely. Through a series of sweetly sentimental sentences and illustrations, Pham provides a sense of perspective that is different from, but related to, the one of Home Tweet Home. Cutouts in the pages of Pham’s book show how something can look little on one page and not little at all on the next. A little light on one page – which shows two children gazing at a candle – becomes, overleaf, the light glowing inside a lighthouse, with the two children sailing toward it on a boat and the text describing it as “a welcoming light.” A little snowflake, which the boy and girl see through a window from inside a house, becomes, on the next page, “a unique snowflake,” one of many in which the two children can play. A little fish in a bowl becomes “a brave fish” swimming in the opposite direction of a whole school of larger fish. In the book’s most amusing idea and illustration, a little idea (shown as the proverbial lightbulb within a thought balloon) becomes “a fantastic idea” – specifically, the “world’s greatest ice cream machine,” complete with “moo motor” (a rather bemused-looking cow), a series of dials and levers, a flavor list, and a robotic dispenser of very generously sized ice-cream cones. The transformation of “little” things is particularly attractive here because those things do not formulaically become big ones – instead, they become different ones, not so much large as seen in a larger context. As a result, There’s No Such Thing as Little shows kids ways in which they can think about the everyday items around them differently and discover new aspects of them – “thinking outside the box,” as the business cliché puts it. But there is nothing clichéd about the way Pham dramatizes the value of non-straight-line thinking: her approach shows many charming ways in which something that is apparently small can become very big indeed, if kids only think about it that way.

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