May 03, 2018

(++++) YES AND NO

Will Bear Share? By Hilary Leung. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.

Will Sheep Sleep? By Hilary Leung. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.

     Adorable critters doing things, or refusing to do them, make these board books a treat for the youngest children. Hilary Leung’s big-eyed, bright-eyed characters are equally emphatic whether answering the title questions of the books in the affirmative or the negative. And the books have little twists that put them a cut above many other board books. For example, adults may expect there to be a lesson that starts with selfishness and is all about how you must learn to share in Will Bear Share? But not so: from the start, Bear shares things already. The book turns out to be about things that should and should not be shared. “Will Bear share her berries?” asks Leung as Bear walks toward huge-eyed Ladybug, who is fully half Bear’s size. Turn the page and there is one word: “Yes.” Both Bear and Ladybug now have fruits to eat, and both look quite happy about it. But after a bit more sharing – of a book, with Giraffe – the question that comes up is, “Will Bear share her toothbrush?” Now she is with the wide-eyed and very toothy little Alligator – but now, on the page after the question, the answer is, “NO! Toothbrushes are not for sharing.” Alligator misses out on additional sharing, too – that is, after Bear successfully shares several other things. Alligator’s next appearance comes when Bear has an ice-cream cone – and this time, Bear simply refuses to share it, and Alligator looks suitably downcast. But then the ice cream falls out of the cone, onto the ground, and now neither of them has a sweet treat – until Ladybug shows up with a gigantic cake, bigger than herself and Bear and Alligator combined, and all the friends have something to share. An amusing, soft-pedaled lesson about what to share and what not to share – and what sometimes happens when you do not share – the book is good-humored throughout, and the simple, pleasantly rounded drawings that cause all the characters to look a bit like plush toys help make the story fun.

     The story is even more entertaining in Will Sheep Sleep? Here the answer is no – again and again. Even though Sheep is tired when the book starts, he will not go to sleep – instead, he springs into further play activity, wearing his bed’s blanket as a cape. All the characters seen in Will Bear Share? also show up in this story. Brushing his teeth – along with Alligator – does not help Sheep sleep. Neither does drinking water given to him by his friend Frog. Sheep makes everything into a game: dueling toothbrushes with Alligator, creating a water fountain with Frog. Even reading a book in bed – with Bear – does not help, since Sheep, instead of paying quiet attention, jumps up and dances all over the bed. The stay-awake amusements continue until the eventual and inevitable question, “Will counting sheep help Sheep sleep?” Turn that page and the one word that appears is, “Perhaps.” So, in the book’s funniest illustration, all the characters appear dressed as sheep and go jumping about to help Sheep rest. And each of the disguised characters has a number underneath, from 1 through 5 – so suddenly Will Sheep Sleep? turns into a counting book as well as a good-night one. This is particularly clever – and it seems only fair that at the book’s end, when all five helpful friends have had a night’s sleep but remain sleepy-eyed in bed, Sheep is bright-eyed and very much awake, showing up in the bedroom with breakfast for all. The characters in these books may sometimes say yes and sometimes no, but parents of very young children will be quite happy to say yes both to Will Sheep Sleep? and to Will Bear Share?

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