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Just Spring

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.

MudMud 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.

Harry the Dirty DogIn 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.

Duck in the TruckPhyl­lis:  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.

Noah's ArkPhyl­lis: 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.

Noah's Ark spread

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.

RainPhyl­lis: 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.

Crankee DoodleJack­ie: 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.

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