About once a month (sometimes more) on a Saturday, I head to wonderful Parnassus Books in Nashville to do story time. I sometimes end up with quite the range of ages, but more often than not, I have toddlers and preschoolers gathered around, ready for a good book. For this reason, I’ve got to be prepared with a selection of engaging and entertaining books geared at those ages. Today, I’ve got three new ones that I’m sure will find a place in future story times, because they are just right for young listeners.
First up is Ducks Away! Written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek, who have previously collaborated on three books, this may be the best one since the perennial favorite, Where Is the Green Sheep?(originally published nearly fifteen years ago). Ducks Away! was originally published in Australia in 2016, and it is just … well, ducky.
This is the deceptively simple story of a mother duck and her five little ducks. Fox and Horacek give the five tiny creatures a delightfully slow reveal: While the mother duck walks across a bridge, we see them follow her, one-by-one and page-by-page. It’s clear right off the bat that this is a good read-aloud choice for toddlers learning to count.
A gust of wind knocks one of the baby ducks off the bridge, who falls feet up into the water below. Each successive duck ends up falling with a splash, and each time the mother duck responds with a repeat rhyming refrain about the number of ducks left on the bridge and the number who have fallen into the water. This repetition and the book’s spot-on rhyming and pacing will draw in young listeners, and along the way they just might get some mathematical reinforcement—counting up from one to five and counting down from five to one, that is.
Horacek’s simple shapes on uncluttered spreads give ample focus to the duck family; no spread is more complicated than the bridge, the ducks, and the blue water below. Children will root for mother duck, who decides that her only option, after the fifth duck falls in, is to fly down to the river where they are. The problem is that she is apprehensive about making the journey — not, that is, until her first little duck says, “MOM! Go with the flow! Five, four, three … two, one, GO!” A happy reunion follows. Mother duck finally has her ducks in a row, so to speak.
Philippa Leathers’ The Tiptoeing Tiger may have children, based on the title alone, imagining fearsome large cats treading stealthily through a forest. But, no, what we have in this swiftly-paced, endearing story is Little Tiger—a miniscule guy, who is disappointed when his big brother tells him he’s “too small and clumsy” to scare any creatures. Little Tiger, who chooses to believe he’s “sleek, silent, and totally terrifying,” sets out to prove his brother wrong.
He tiptoes up to Boar, Elephant, and some monkeys, but they all laugh him off, telling him he’s too tiny and too quiet to take them by surprise. There’s much humor here as he so confidently sneaks up on some of his larger friends. But when he tries to frighten a frog in a pond, he sees his own reflection and manages to give himself a fright, proving that he is, indeed, adequately fearsome. After all, we are who we choose to be, yes? It’s an appealing, chunky thought for children to chew on. And they’ll be drawn in by the darling protagonist and his roars—the roars he so desperately wants to be awe-inspiring and formidable but that can’t actually help being totes adorbs (as the young ‘uns say).
Finally, there is Galia Bernstein’s I Am a Cat, where we meet another small, but this time domesticated, cat. On the first page, Simon declares, “I am a cat. Just like you!” He seems to be telling this to us readers, breaking the fourth wall to look right at us. But, no, turn the page to see a pair of very funny wordless spreads in which larger, wilder felines (a tiger, a lion, etc.) look at Simon in disbelief—and then break out into hysterical laughter.
Each feline is convinced that Simon can’t really be a cat, as each of them is narrowly comparing Simon’s qualities to their own. For instance, the lion is convinced Simon’s not a cat, because cats have manes and “a tuft at the end of their tails, and when they roar everybody trembles for they are the kings of all beasts!” That may be true for Lion, but he only thinks of himself. As do all of the other cats, including Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger. When Simon finally convinces them all that he also has sharp teeth, sharp claws, eyes that can see in the dark, etc.—only much smaller—his large feline friends finally understand.
The story has big things to say about small people (given that Simon is a stand-in for a child), as well as what it means to be part of a family. This is Bernstein’s author-illustrator debut, and I like her lively lines and captivating cats. I look forward to what comes next from her.
Story time or bust!
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
I AM A CAT. Text and illustrations copyright © 2017 Galia Bernstein. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York.
THE TIPTOEING TIGER. Copyright © 2018 by Philippa Leathers. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Illustrations from DUCKS AWAY! written by Mem Fox. Art (c) 2018 by Judy Horacek. Used with permission from Scholastic Press.