There’s great value in well-crafted picture books that address that stage in childhood in which the child stubbornly refuses help and must do everything “my byself,” as my own daughter used to say during her own obstinate toddler stage.
Here are two new picture books that do this up right.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on picture books that celebrate the Earth.
With his loose-lined cartoon art, Adam J.B. Lane gets right to the point on the first page of Stop Thief! with one toddler’s declaration that he’s all grown-up. “I AM A BIG BOY NOW!” he declares at the kitchen table. This is news to his shocked parents; in this broad-humored story with Mo-Willems-esque art (the father even looks like Mo), the parents jump in their seats at their son’s proclamation. He no longer needs a booster seat, he certainly doesn’t need any more healthy vegetables, he’ll pass on the good-night kisses, and he’s even too old for his beloved stuffed toy pig, Mr. Pigglesworth.
Or so he thinks. After finding himself unable to sleep, he heads downstairs for his bedtime companion, only to discover a thief is running off with it.
Thus begins the boy’s wonderfully campy chase of the Three-Stooges-like criminal through town, all in an effort to save Mr. Pigglesworth. The young boy simply takes matters into his own hands—he’s now got a chance to prove his big-boy status—yelling “STOP THIEF!” at every opportunity. In one spread, he looks down at his own feet while in full pursuit, as if surprised at what has come over him.
In a series of mostly wordless spreads, he zippy-quick chases the crook through the zoo, the Wunda Chocolate Company, a museum, and the fairgrounds. Boy and thief even fly over the city in a hot air balloon, giving Lane a chance to play with perspective and the boy to prove his humanity by pulling the thief to safety in the end.
Lane occasionally plays with blue-hued panels of art and includes rewarding references for observant eyes, such as Batman hiding out at the zoo’s Bat World and famous paintings eyeing the fleeing duo at the art museum.
The humor is over the top, and the action well-paced with a brisk and infectious energy. Despite his big-boy stubbornness, his parents tuck him in at night after he makes it home. (Come on now. He is still a wee boy after all. Who doesn’t want to be tucked in?)
Was it real or a dream? There’s no indication it was the latter. Score.
Unlike Stop Thief, readers never actually see the young boy’s mother in Judith Rossell’s Oliver. Like many mothers, she sounds a bit harried. Hey, it’s the end of a long day, she’s busy, and Oliver has a ton of curious questions: How do planes stay in the sky? How exactly does the refrigerator work? Could penguins live in it?
The mother, entirely offstage, skirts any long explanations, but when it’s time for his bath, Oliver’s curiosity won’t tolerate a one- or two-word response any longer. He really wants to know what lives down the drain, and “just pipes” won’t suffice. “Get dry, get dressed,” his Mom says after he gets out of the tub. “…[H]ow about taking a nap…You do something quiet. Do some drawing.” Eventually, he builds a cardboard-box submarine and heads down the drain in his imagination.
And he has the “best fun ever,” quite the thrilling adventure—and one involving the aforementioned penguins. (The Aforementioned Penguins. Band name! I call it.) But he knows his mother will miss him, so he heads home, complete with inventive plans for the next day. Indeed, Mom tells him he was missed when he “returns,” rubbing his eyes, no less.
Rossell lays all this out on a sunny palette: Think lots of cheery, pastel greens, yellows and oranges. For Oliver’s imaginative romp, she switches to a very childlike style of drawing that is never too cutesy or condescending. It just works. There’s a lot of subtle humor in this story, which nails the contemporary suburban mother-child dynamic.
In both books, our wee protagonists are ready to strike out on their own, but fall back on Mama or Papa for some sturdy reassurance in the end. That’s OK. They’ve got plenty of big-boy years ahead.
Here’s to their spirited attempts to break out on their own now…
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
STOP THIEF! Copyright © 2012 by Adam J. B. Lane. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York. Image reproduced by permission of the publisher.