a list of…five books popping with curious questions and clever observations

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea, paintings by Tom Slaughter

“If a duckling grows and becomes a duck, can a car grow and become …a truck?”  Hmmm.

What about a cap?

“If a kitten grows and becomes a cat, can a cap grow and become …a hat?”

This exuberant book bursts with wonderings about which things grow, and which do not.  Goats and kangaroos, cupcakes and beach towels, are all waiting to be sorted into these two categories.  They are presented to us with such vibrant, brightly-colored, flair, I dare you to not smile!  Such fun!

Each two-page spread features a rhyming couplet.  On the left side are living creatures who begin as pink piglets or white polar bear cubs, then grow into adult versions; on the right is an object, situated so that when a flap is lifted, it is transformed, it grows into a larger object.  The car grows into a truck; the cap into a hat.  So delicious to be able to guess what that rhyming word is going to be, what that object will blossom into, hidden away beneath the flap!  So invigorating to know the right answer to the question:  NO!

Snappy, rhythmic summaries appear from time to time, with words that beg to be chanted in loud, peppy voices! The concept is delightful, and Tom Slaughter’s illustrations are absolutely brilliant.  He has prints hanging in MOMA…just to give you some context!  I can just about guarantee your youngest readers and universe-ponderers will adore this book.  If I had a toddler, I’d buy one.  New in 2011.  Great baby shower gift!

Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains, by May Garelick, pictures by Leonard Weisgard

On the other side of the spectrum, this lovely, old book quietly explores one nagging question:  where does a butterfly go when it rains?

The narrator of this book wonders about that.  And wondering about that brings about other, similar, thoughts — what about a bee?  or a bird?  or a mole?  These animals’ habits, though, are easier to figure out.  A mole, for example, can stay in his hole, when you think about it.

Drawing upon all the rainy day observations in her experience, the narrator continues puzzling out her question.  She has seen what her cat does in the rain.  She has heard why ducks aren’t bothered by wetness.  Some questions, though, are just more mysterious than others.  In the end, we don’t get an answer to this particular question.  We are left with the quiet beauty of wondering.

I adore this book for its gentle, insightful, celebration of wonder; for the way it opens our eyes to ordinary bits of the world around us which adults often fail to notice and consider  Wonder is such an essential piece of developing our minds; it’s a foundation of  learning, and a fount of enjoyment.

Written in 1961, this book has been republished with new illustrations.  You cannot beat the old, gorgeous, whisper-soft blue prints by Weisgard, however.  This was a favorite for our family, which I highly recommend.

Yo! Yes? written and illustrated by Chris Raschka

Two boys meet.  Strangers.  One outgoing, gregarious, forthright; one shy, tentative, soft-spoken.  By story’s end — Wow!  Friendship!  How’s that happen?

The fact that Chris Raschka can accomplish this metamorphosis in 34 words (I counted!), summoning up an incredible array of moods, from nervous indecision to sunny jubilation, is a testimony to his brilliance as an illustrator.   Little wonder he won a Caldecott Honor for this work.  (This year, he took the prize for A Ball for Daisy.)

The postures of these two boys are genius —  the ways they lean, hold their heads, use their arms, communicate clearly.  The facial expressions, accomplished with such brief lines, convey feelings with such precision, you will feel them in your gut, too.  Raschka also manipulates the font sizes expressing those very few words, to broadcast loud, forthright questioning; humble, bashful responses; incredulity; vehemence.  The communication that happens between these two is comprised mostly of this body language, captured fantastically by Raschka.

The question, “Will you be my friend?” is one of the vulnerable questions we all ask, and the emotions surrounding these interactions are known, even by very young children.  This is a story we can all relate to, with an ending that makes us all very happy!

I Know a Lot of Things, by Ann and Paul Rand

The young narrator of this book is cataloging many gems of information about the world, which he already knows.  There’s quite a lot of interesting stuff tucked away in his mind, in fact.

“I know a cat goes meow, a dog goes bowwow and that is how they talk.”

“A book needs pages and a cake takes ages to bake.”

Accumulating knowledge is a satisfying task, and the amount of knowledge acquired by children in their first years of life is astounding.  How lovely to reflect on things already learned, things known, tidbits picked up from here and there.  I love listening to children of any age expressing their views, their insights, their understanding.   It is truly fascinating.

Interestingly enough, this book, with its quiet tone and sense of wonder, is also one of the older books on the list today.  Written in 1956, it has recently been republished.  I find it curious that both of these old classics have a quietness to them, whereas the newer titles are bold, loud, strong in nature.  Certainly there’s a place for both, but I recommend working to salvage as much quietness, simplicity, space for thought, as possible for children in this loud, fast, world.

Paul Rand was an incredibly influential graphic designer, whose work you see around you without realizing the source!  His designs for this book are just fantastic.  The collaboration between husband and wife is a clear meeting of the mind and heart, and it touched my mind and heart as well.  See if you don’t agree.

May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor

What a lark!  The King and Queen have invited this lively fellow to their house for Sunday tea!  He’s delighted to attend, but has one small question for them:  “May I bring a friend?”  The King and Queen are most hospitable and make it clear that any friend-of-a-friend is welcome at the castle.  So, he brings a…

… giraffe.

Are the King and Queen flabbergasted?  Alarmed?  Annoyed?  Not at all!  (Remember, they are most hospitable.)  They all sit down to a delightful tea.  In fact, the invitation is re-issued for Monday dinner.

Of course, the little boy again requests permission to bring a friend.  Of course, his friend is welcomed.  This time, it’s a…

Well, I can’t tell you! You need to read the book!  As the week goes by, a steady stream of invitations is issued and a garden variety of accompanying-friends arrive at the palace , until finally the King and Queen hit on an even more splendid arrangement.

Winner of the 1965 Caldecott Award, this is a book I recall loving in my childhood.  It is full of whimsy, happiness, and welcome.  Not one teensy hint of disapproval, disappointment, or dreariness.  The imaginative, black line drawings are printed in tropical sherbet colors, and the page layouts enhance the element of surprise as we await the revelation of each new friend.

Share this with anyone four years old and up to brighten up the day.

Here are Amazon links for all these wise and wonderful books:

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?

where does the butterfly go when it rains?

Yo! Yes? (Scholastic Bookshelf)

I Know a Lot of Things

May I Bring a Friend?