There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback. Published 1997. Caldecott Honor 1998. Viking Books. ISBN: 9780670869398
I have looked at this book on the library shelf a thousand times, and somehow I always think I already know the story and put it back without reading it. This time, though, after having spent some time with Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, I was a careful reader, and I learned that a lot more thought went into Taback’s representation of this folk song than I ever realized! As he does in Joseph, Taback uses cut-outs in the illustrations to show the animals inside the lady’s stomach, and how the size of her stomach increases as she swallows more and more of them. That approach is kind of obvious, and not particularly exciting, but the details are very impressive. The page about birds depicts at least a dozen different birds, all labeled with their names and drawn in different artistic styles. At the end of each verse, animals comment in rhyme about the lady’s impending demise, contributing to the somewhat dark humor of the song. Every page offers something new to look at, while also remaining true to the original story. I never read this book or sing the song at story time because of the morbid ending, but this book really makes me want to try it.
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. Published 1960. Caldecott Honor 1961. HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780688132835
Every time I so much as think about this book, I start singing The Garden Song. “Inch by inch, row by row...” The song is appropriate enough, considering the story is about an inchworm, who prides himself on his useful skill of measuring things, and uses this skill to bargain his way out of being eaten. This trick works on a robin, a flamingo, a toucan, and even a nightingale, who allows the inchworm to try measuring his song. I think this book would be great for a bird-themed story time, though it doesn’t look like it at first glance, and it would also pair well with a book like Mouse Count, wherein some clever mice outsmart a snake predator using their own cleverness. I never paid much attention to Leo Lionni before, but his illustrations of the natural world are gorgeous - and I think I need to start paying more attention to his books when it comes to recommending titles to library families.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Published 2000. Caldecott Honor 2001. Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 9780689832130
This silly picture book about farm animals who type is one of the funniest I’ve ever read, and a favorite among parents and kids at library story times. Doreen Cronin has a very dry sense of humor, and this book works on multiple levels, entertaining children and adults alike with sophisticated as well as silly jokes. My favorite illustration in the entire book is the scene where we only see Farmer Brown’s shadow, but we can tell from the shape of it that he’s having a meltdown about the latest note from the barn. Subtle moments like that are such treats in children’s books. The twist at the end is also just perfect, and it gets a huge laugh, especially from four- and five-year-olds. For more barnyard humor from Doreen Cronin also check out of one of my favorite chapter books, The Trouble with Chickens.
In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming. Published 1993. Caldecott Honor 1994. Henry Holt. ISBN: 9780805059830
What appears at first glance as a very simple picture book, is actually more sophisticated than meets the eye. In the very first spread, a child watches a frog leap into a pond. The reader is drawn to the frog based on the gaze and expression of the child figure. From there, we can follow the frog from page to page as we meet each form of wildlife that lives in or near the pond, and experience the cycle of the four seasons, ending in Winter, when the frog settles into hibernation. My favorite illustration, no question, is on the spread where the text reads “circle, swirl, whirligigs twirl” because the frog, floating in the water, is nearly hidden. I knew to look for him, since he’s on every other page, and the payoff was great when I finally found him. I also really like the alliteration on the page about the crabs. The hard C sound imitates the sound of their cracking claws and makes the crabs on the page seem almost alive. This is definitely about to become a new favorite in my story time repertoire!
See other Caldecott Challenge participants' blogs on the challenge page at LibLaura5. Follow my challenge progress here.