Saturday, December 18, 2010

Picture Book Roundup: What Ewan and I Are Currently Laughing Our Heads Off At

A recent article in the New York Times remarks on the decline in picture book sales in 2010, and posits that parents are hurrying their kindergarten and grade 1 children into "big kid" or chapter books in order to prepare them for academia.  Not in our house, mister!  I love picture books (what's not to love?  They have PICTURES!), and I love reading them with Ewan, my book-devouring second grader.  And I don't for one second subscribe to the idea that picture books will dumb him down.  In fact, I believe that the use of humour in many picture books can be way more sophisticated than in chapter books, because the interplay between text and picture is so open to dramatic possibility.  And don't even get me started on vocabulary--a little soporific lettuce, anyone?  So, here's a roundup of some of the smart and funny picture books Ewan and I have been kicking back with this week. 

Let's start will Melanie Watt, shall we?  Have I Got a Book for You! is a hilarious spoof of pushy salespeople, particularly those on T.V. infomercials.  The whole story is the salesman trying to sell us the book.  Talk about meta-fiction.  It wouldn't work half as well without the pictures, which show us:
1)  exactly how satisfied Mr. Al Foxword's previous customers are,
2)  why we should buy Al's book RIGHT NOW!, and
3) what we can do with not one, but two of Al's awesome books (or how about 742 of make the Book Fort you've always wanted!)
Ah, the delicious, ridiculous irony of it all....and by the way, gotta love that surprise on the last page!

Michael Ian Black's new book, A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea, is kind of the opposite of Have I Got a Book For You!  This book assumes we're sold on a crazy idea ("Like most children, you have probably thought to yourself at one time or another, I bet a pig parade would be a lot of fun.") and goes to enormous lengths to persuade us of its potential for disaster.  Pigs don't march, they snuffle, and "snuffling is simply an inappropriate way to conduct yourself along a parade route.".  They won't wear those snappy majorette uniforms, and they prefer sad country ballads to "good, spirited marching-band music".   They also don't see the point of floats.  Even pig-themed floats.  And if you try explaining any of these things to a pig, "they just look at you as if you are speaking a language they do not understand."    Pictures showing pigs destroying marching band instruments and wreaking havoc with snappy majorette uniforms, never mind getting their snouts stuck in the used bubble gum on city sidewalks, clearly demonstrate that this writer knows what he's talking about. Ix-nay on the Pig Parade, already!

David Bruins and Hilary Leung's Ninja Cowboy Bear Presents the Way of the Ninja is a friendship story that illustrates what can happen when one member of a group  is more adventurous than the others. Ninja, cowboy and bear are friends.  "When they got together it usually led to merrymaking, buffoonery and hilarity."  But sometimes cowboy and bear are too sedate for rambunctious ninja.  When cowboy wants to paint, ninja wants to jump on beds.  When bear wants to pick flowers, ninja wants to climb trees and poke bee's nests.  To ninja, a swing isn't a swing, it's a launchpad.  Let's shoot for the stars!  But when cowboy and bear get hurt playing with ninja, he thinks they are poor sports.   How the spirited ninja learns to include his friends in  his wild play makes for a story that is both funny and sweet.

 And, last but definitely not least, Olivia Helps With Christmas.  As in all the Olivia books, the visuals are everything.  They show us every nuance of the drama, and with Olivia, we know there's got to be drama, yes?  The opening spread ('Twas the day before Christmas.  Olivia and her family had been out all morning, busy with last-minute shopping.  Olivia was exhausted, yet there was still so much to do.") features a picture of Olivia's Mom and Dad, juggling packages, trees and children but looking pretty spry, following a bedraggled, burnt-out Olivia, who, as Ewan delightedly points out, isn't carrying one single thing!    Christmas morning brings us a shot of Olivia and her two little brothers bounding downstairs, mouths open wide, beneath the dry line "noiselessly they crept down the stairs.".   My very favourite page is where we learn that "Some of Santa's offerings were better than others. Pajamas.  Skis!  Sweater.  Sled!  Booties.  Maracas!", with correspondingly glum and lively faces on the gift recipients.  Santas of the world, listen up:  sleds and maracas will trump pajamas and booties every time!   'Nuff said.

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