a list of…five pesky problems with surprising solutions!

The Giant Jam Sandwich, story and pictures by John Vernon Lord, verses by Janet Burroway

We all know how troublesome wasps can be.

Well!  In the quaint little town of Itching Down, four million of these little rogues flew in one summer and gave the villagers no end of difficulties!  Stinging, diving, humming, buzzing, searching for sweets.

What to do?! 

Fortunately, the town baker comes up with a whingdilly of a plan, and the townspeople set to work to create a gigantic jam sandwich to trap the millions of wasps.  They mix up mountains of dough, bake a mammoth loaf, saw off a couple of massive slices, spread a truckload of butter and jam on one slice, then hover overhead in helicopters with the second slice, waiting for the droves of wasps to descend on the sandwich and…wham-o!  Gotcha!

Told in clever, rhyming text, this lively story is brilliant!  We’ve read our worn-out copy many, many, many times.  The pictures are bright, detailed, energetic mixed-media illustrations.  Very appealing, with more-than-plenty to look at.  This is a Swanson favorite, great for ages 4 and up, up, up!

The Crows of Pearblossom, by Aldous Huxley, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Mr. and Mrs. Crow have a charming little nest in a large cottonwood tree in the town of Pearblossom.  There, dear, simpleminded Mrs. Crow lays one egg after another, placing each one tenderly in her sweet cradle only to find it missing when she comes back from her daily marketing.  Oh dear! 

 But… one day, when Mrs. Crow returns a tad earlier than usual, she discovers the terrible answer to the mystery:  Monstrous Mr. Rattlesnake, who dwells in a hole at the bottom of the tree, has been twining his way up the trunk and gobbling up her eggs!

What to do?!

Mrs. Crow suggests that Mr. Crow display his bravado by going down into the snake’s lair and killing the wicked creature.  Somehow, Mr. Crow does not think that is the best idea.  After giving Mrs. Crow a salty little piece of his mind, Mr. Crow sets off to find his wise friend — guess who? — Owl.  Old Man Owl has a much more sensible plan involving mud, a chimney, and some paintpots, and resulting in a snake with a very nasty bellyache, and…as a bonus… a most convenient clothesline for Mrs. Crow’s wash!

This is a cunning little tale, with some very spunky characters, written by the same Aldous Huxley who wrote Brave New World.  Apparently the only children’s story he wrote, this was created for his young niece, Olivia, as a Christmas gift in 1944, and was published in the 60s with illustrations by Barbara Cooney.   This new edition was published just this year. 

The illustrations are absolutely fantastic!  Bubbling over with personality, charm, and color, they set a wonderfully sunny, quirky tone for this creative story.

Runnery Granary, by Nancy Farmer, with pictures by Jos. A. Smith

We’ve landed in medieval Europe, here.  Mr. Runnery owns a mill by a stream where he grinds grain into flour.  Mrs. Runnery operates a very large, stone, granary, where farmer-neighbors store their grain until they’re ready to have it ground.  All is hunky dory until…one day Mrs. Runnery finds trouble brewing in her granary.  Some grain sacks have been opened and the grain has been pilfered…by…weevils.  Yikes!

What to do?!

Her daughter suggests spiders.  The Runnerys collect and unload

a gnome minding his own business

bunches and bunches of spiders into the granary to do their ferocious best among the weevils, but…the next day, Mrs. Runnery finds the spiders actually traumatized!  What can be causing the distress in the granary?  Rats?   Wolves?  Cows?    Wise old Granny knows:  they’ve got gnomes.  And she knows just the trick to get rid of them. 

It’s a very…unusual…recipe Granny uses to make gnome paper, but the Runnerys fan out in the nightime forest to find all the special ingredients for Granny, who mixes up the concotion, spreads it on paper, and hangs it from the ceiling in the granary.  Then, they wait until morning when…what a colorful crew of lumpy, grumpy gnomes they find!  One last problem remains: what to do with the gnomes.  Granny’s got this one covered, too, and the weary Runnarys can settle back down to tea and peace. 

Delightful story featuring gnomes, one of my favorite pack of pests.  The paintings are stunning!  Watercolor and colored pencil.  Creamy, light-soaked, enchanting pictures neatly combining a rural medieval setting and the fantastical gnomes. 

Epaminondas, retold by Eve Merriam, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Epaminondas is a barefoot, tousle-haired, squirt who lives with his patient mama on one side of a big hill, and who dearly loves visiting his grandma and grandpa on the other side of the hill.  And…each time he visits them, his darling grandma gives him something special to take back home.  Might be a slab of delicious cake, a mound of fresh, pale butter, or even a frisky little puppy. 

When Epaminondas walks home with his cake, he carries that cake tightly in his fists.  Doesn’t want to drop a single crumb of it, so he squeezes it nice and tight.  When he arrives home, of course he’s got nothing but a gob of crumbs in his sweaty little hands.  His mama sighs, and explains to him the proper way of carrying cake — wrapped up in leaves and placed carefully under his hat.

Problem is, the next gift is butter.   Epaminondas carefully follows his mama’s cake-carrying instructions, but in the heat of midday, this results in butter trickling and drippiting down his face, all the way to his very toes.  Ach! His mother exclaims over his foolishness and tells him how he ought to carry butter. 

And…on it goes.  Epaminondas clearly has no sense and only follows the most recent set of instructions, which turn out to be  terribly unhelpful with his grandma’s new present.

This is a funny, charming re-telling by the masterful Eve Merriam of an old, turn-of-the-century Southern folk tale.  I remember reading this story and laughing about this daft boy when I was in kindergarten, and my kids have thoroughly enjoyed it as well.  Even the youngest listeners  find themselves one step ahead of the boy in the story, which makes for a whole lot of fun.  Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators.  This  1968 version is an unusual look for her, featuring nearly monochromatic  pictures on white backgrounds, but the charm is fully there.  She has captured the scrawny, carefree, sweetness of Epaminondas perfectly!

What Do You Do With a Kangaroo?, written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer

Here’s a stumper:  What do you do with a Kangaroo who jumps in your window, sits on your bed, and says, “I never sleep on wrinkled sheets, so change them now and make them smooth, and fluff up the pillows if you please.”  What do you do?

That’s just the first of the preposterous problems posed by Mercer Mayer in this classic book, written almost 40 years ago now.  The pages are full of bossy opossums, stubborn moose, cantankerous camels, all pushing their way intothis little girl’s house and life and stating their outrageous demands! 

a well-behaved kangaroo!

So, what do you do?!

Well, this girl is no pushover, let me tell you!  She tells them off in no uncertain terms and proceeds to thrown them out by force!  Bravo! 

Until…finally…the obstreperous creatures simply will not budge.  All of them.  Together.  Taking over her bed.  Now what will she do? 

Delightful, humorous, exaggerated nonsense with Mercer Mayer’s classic illustrations that will have kids grinning and shouting along with you!  Love this one!

Here are Amazon links to all these problem-solution stories:
The Giant Jam Sandwich (Sandpiper Book)
The Crows of Pearblossom
Runnery Granary
What Do You Do With A Kangaroo? (Scholastic Bookshelf)