August 17, 2017


Sheep in a Shop. By Nancy Shaw. Illustrated by Margot Apple. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

Mouse Shapes. By Ellen Stoll Walsh. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

     Books that were fun in their original incarnations have a tendency to re-emerge years later, sometimes many years later, in new bindings, new sizes and new forms – and that can be a very good thing for families that may have missed the stories the first time or may now have additional children who will enjoy much-loved tales. Sheep in a Shop dates all the way back to 1991, but Nancy Shaw’s rhyming narration has lost none of its zip, and Margot Apple’s illustrations are as cuddly and amusing as always. That means the new edition, in board-book form, will be gently but thoroughly amusing to a whole new generation of young children. The story has five of the sheep birthday-present shopping in a store with a pig proprietor. The fun here involves all the different things the sheep find in this old-fashioned general store – and the way they look when interacting with all the items. For instance, Shaw writes, “Sheep find rackets. Sheep find rockets./ Sheep find jackets full of pockets.” And Apple shows one sheep standing on its back legs, about to practice a tennis serve; another carefully examining a toy rocket on the shop’s floor; and a third wearing a long jacket festooned with multiple pockets containing everything from a piece of paper to a curious mouse. Eventually the sheep decide on the perfect gift, but not one that is easy for them to get: “Sheep decide to buy a beach ball./ Sheep prefer an out-of-reach ball.” Chaos ensues, and the store turns into a big mess; but the sheep clean everything up – and then discover that they do not have enough money to buy the gift. What to do? “What can they swap to pay the shop?” Well, they are sheep, after all, and a little bit of neat shearing later, the sheep offer the shopkeeper three bags of fluffy white wool, which he gladly accepts in trade – and all the sheep head happily home for the sixth sheep’s birthday party. Simply plotted, nicely told and neatly illustrated, Sheep in a Shop is every bit as enjoyable today as it was when originally published.

     Ellen Stoll Walsh’s Mouse Shapes is a more-recent book, originally dating to 2001, and it too has lost none of its charm in its new, small-size softcover binding. Much of the attraction of Walsh’s books about these mice comes from her use of cut-paper collage to form the mice themselves and the objects with which they interact. In Mouse Shapes, the three mice (Violet, Martin and Fred) are fleeing from a cat when they find a hiding place consisting of jumbled-together shapes. As soon as they are sure the cat is gone, they start making things from the shapes – and the very softly delivered educational message of the book begins, as Violet makes a house by putting a triangle on a square, while Martin finds a yellow circle to represent the sun and makes a tree with a small rectangle for a trunk and a large triangle representing branches and leaves. As for Fred, he puts two circles on the lower part of a long rectangle to make a wagon. Ovals, diamonds and more are used to make all sorts of things – even, eventually, the face of the cat, complete with pointy triangles for teeth. But suddenly the real cat comes back – and the mice run off. The end? No – they come back to the shapes when it is safe, and Fred has an idea: they use the shapes to make “three big scary mice” that frighten the cat away the next time it comes near. Like Mouse Paint and Mouse Count, Walsh’s other books about these mice, Mouse Shapes is fun to read and fun to look at – and very involving in its cleverness and simplicity, so that young children who read the book (or have it read to them) and watch the shapes closely will likely be encouraged to use shapes to make objects on their own. Maybe they will even make up their own shape stories – an outcome that would be as delightful today as when Mouse Shapes first appeared in book form.

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