Phyllis: e.e. cummings said it best when he described the world as mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. Snow melts and runs babbling away, days lengthen, green sprouts of skunk cabbage and rhubarb poke out. This month we are looking at muddy, squishy, rainy, wet stories in honor of spring.
Mud by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Lauren Stringer, begins, “One night it happens.… earth comes unfrozen.” Dry leaves and small stones unfreeze, and the hills “remember their colors.” With vivid language that evokes a child joyously stomping in muddy puddles, Ray welcomes spring. “Winter will squish squash squck sop splat slurp melt in mud.” Lauren Stringer’s richly colored, lush art with its circular, scallopy lines and close up views of a child joyously stirring, sticking, digging, and dancing in this new melting world perfectly capture the delight of getting muddier and muddier – squoozing the mud between fingers, stomping in it, feet and hands and face coated with one of the surest signs of spring. “Happy mud. Gooey gloppy mucky magnificent mud.”
And we echo the last lines of this cheerful homage: “Come spring, come grass, come green.”
Jackie: This is a book to remind us of the importance of verbs — “squish squash squck sop splat slurp melt in mud.” I want to read that out loud again and again. And I love Lauren Stringer’s muddy feet bottoms on the last spread of this book. Perhaps we welcome spring best with mud on our feet.
In Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, Harry, a white dog with black spots, likes everything — except a bath. So when he hears the water running in the tub he buries the scrub brush in the back yard and runs away, discovering all sorts of fascinating places to play where he accumulates such a layer of grime that his family doesn’t recognize him when he does return home, a black dog with white spots. Harry tries to convince his family with his old tricks “he flip-flopped and he flop-flipped. He rolled over and played dead. He danced and he sang. But his family said, “’Oh no, it couldn’t be Harry.’” In desperation, he digs up the scrub brush, runs up the stairs, and jumps into the tub, begging for a bath. Restored to his former self, Harry is recognized by his family as their very own white dog with black spots. Happy to be home with his family again, he falls asleep on his very own pillow so soundly he doesn’t even feel the scrubbing brush he has re-hidden under the pillow. I always wondered if Harry’s family really didn’t recognize him or were just pretending, but reading this story again I’m convinced it’s an honest case of mistaken identity. And did ever a dog look more glad to be himself again back with the ones who love him?
Jackie: Lisa von Drasek put a link on her Facebook page to this wonderful video of Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog. That was how I experienced the book this morning. What a treat!
I have thought that this is a message‑y kind of story — and maybe too much so for me. But this time when I listened to Betty White, I was just charmed by Harry the Dog. Maybe the message isn’t so much about the importance of being clean (I guess I’m having to rethink that one, too, in these times when hand-washing is what we need to do) but Harry’s story may be more about being part of a family. And if that involves occasional baths, then it seems Harry decides it’s worth it. And now the bath brush is only half hidden.
Phyllis: Duck in the Truck, written and illustrated by Jez Alborough, is a rollicking romp of a read-aloud with spare, jouncy, rhyming text and exuberant illustrations. “This is the duck driving home in the truck…. this is rock struck by the truck. And this is the muck where the truck gets stuck.” Duck’s truck, loaded with produce, bounces off the road into a mud puddle where it is firmly stuck. A frog in a nearby bush offers a push, but the truck is still stuck. A sheep in a jeep offers to help, but the truck is still stuck. When a goat ties a rope to his motorboat and pulls while the others push, the truck finally breaks free, and the duck drives merrily off, leaving the frog, the sheep, and the goat, stuck. In the muck.
Jackie: I read a while ago that the “k” sound is one of the funniest sounds in the English language. Jez Alborough must be aware of that. This book begins with wonderful k‑sound words. The duck is “driving home in a truck,” on a trek taking him back. “This is the muck where the truck becomes stuck.” And the muck is “yucky.”
It was also fun to see format of this book. Alborough tells the story with “This is.” Each sentence begins with “This is…” and describes what is going on. It’s so immediate. We are right there pushing along with the frog and the sheep. I have to admit I wanted one more page, where the duck comes back to help pull his helpers out of the mud. But I do love the language and the format.
Phyllis: Noah’s Ark begins with a 17th century poem translated from the Dutch of the biblical story of the flood and the animals boarding the ark: “creatures all, large and small, good and mean, fowl and clean, fierce and tame, in they came.” The rest of the book is wordless, the illustrations rich in details of the ark and the flood, pictures that kids love to pour over (at least ours did), including one of a worn-out Noah, most likely wondering if they’ll ever make landfall. I have always felt sorry for the animals left outside as the rain falls and the water rises, and Spier’s illustration of the left-behinds as the water rises still tugs at my heart. On the storm-tossed and decidedly messy ark Noah at last spots a bit of land above the floodwaters and sends out a bird who eventually returns with a green branch from the reappearing earth as the flood recedes. Everyone happily disembarks to find a home in a new, green land with a rainbow arcing in the sky.
Jackie: I love Peter Spier and only wish that I had written to him to tell him while he was still living. Those who also love Peter Spier might enjoy this short video. It’s such a treat to hear him singing “Fox went out on a chilly night.”
I agree, Phyllis, the most moving section of Noah’s Ark is the spread of the left-behinds. And Spier has given them puzzled expressions, as if they are saying, “Only two elephants? Only two giraffes?” The poet writes: “But the rest/Worst and best/Stayed on shore./Were no more.” These left behind animals remind me of the common experience of not being part of the “chosen” crowd, not being cool, just scruffing along. But that’s where the real stories are.
Back to the book, I love the little details on every page. They demand readers pore over the pages, check out every corner. I had to read this book in e‑format today and found it frustrating that I could not get closer to the illustrations. When this social-distancing is over I’m going to have to really read this book again.
Phyllis: Rain! by Linda Ashman is puddle wonderful, a parallel account of two people on a rainy day, one a cranky older man, the other a young child. The man complains as he gets ready to go out in the rain: “Nasty galoshes. Blasted overcoat. There goes my hair. ” The child, on the other hand, eagerly climbs into his green boots and puts on his frog hat and green rain coat.
The man and the boy (plus his mother) end up at the Rain or Shine Café, where the man sourly orders “Coffee, black, ” and the boy orders cocoa and cookies. When they both get up to leave, they bump into each other. The man scowls and stomps away, the boy discovers that the man’s hat has fallen off and chases after him to return it. The surprised man also requests the boy’s frog hat to try on, which the boy hands him. His mood improved, the man walks home relishing the rain, even ribbeting at the doorman he had harrumphed at earlier. Christian Robinson’s art captures the fun of a child in the rain and the man’s crankiness reminiscent of James Stephenson’s Worst Person in the World.
Jackie: There is something fun about putting cranky people in picture books. Perhaps it’s the suspense. Are they going to become un-cranky by the end? Remember one of your favorites, Phyllis? Crankee Doodle? In February, 2016, we did an entire blog about cranky characters.
In this story, the contrast between the child’s delight in the rain and the man’s disgust is so much fun — “It’s raining cats and dogs” says the man. “It’s raining frogs and polliwogs. Hippity hop,” says the child.
Linda Ashman loves language, too. The cranky man should have been cheered by the word “galoshes,” as in “nasty galoshes, blasted overcoat.” But he is not cheered until he tries on the frog hat. I wish we all had frog hats in these anxious days. But a good book is as effective.
Phyllis: As we drip and drizzle our way out of winter, these books make us happy for rain and mud and the awakening, puddle-wonderful, just-spring world.
Note: Because most of these books were not readily available at my local library, (and which, as of this date, is currently closed) I read them online. As more and more of us shelter in place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we can find many of our favorite picture books read aloud in videos online. We wish for us all a healthy spring. Stay well and take care of each other.