Saturday, August 25, 2012

Three Cheers: When Worrying Does Make It Better

There are people who forge through life, seemingly without a care in the world, and then there are those who, well . . . sweat the small stuff.  As much as I don’t like it -- and I really do not -- I find myself in this latter group much of the time.  In fact, this worrying habit itself troubles me, which doesn’t really help me break it at all.  With that in mind, here’s a look at three recently published picture books whose characters the worrier in me can relate to.

In Sophie’s Fish by A. E. Cannon, Jake agrees to take care of Sophie’s fish, Yo-Yo, but as he waits for Sophie to bring her fish to his house, Jake is beset by what-if doubts that start to overwhelm him.  “What if Yo-Yo gets hungry?  What if Yo-Yo wants to play a game?  What if Yo-Yo gets sleepy . . . or cold?”  He even worries, “Do fish care if their special blankets are all wet?”  But when Sophie arrives and beams at him, Jake’s worries subside.  After all, “How hard can it be to babysit a fish?”  Well, maybe harder than you would think.

My children loved the twist at the end of the story.  (And for some inexplicable reason my toddler now thinks the name Sophie is hilarious.  I guess she associates it with a funny book, but you would think Yo-Yo would be funnier.)

The collage illustrations by Lee White capture Jake's frantic energy and enhance the characters' personalities -- especially that of Jake’s imagined Yo-Yo.  With each subsequent reading I found more detail to appreciate, including fish-shaped water splashes, clock hands, tree leaves, and even a fish-shaped speech bubble.  White seamlessly incorporates mixed media elements -- from lace curtains and tissue to buttons and bowties -- into his watercolor illustrations.  Additionally, clever use of text provides depth and texture.

Sophie’s Fish is a delight on the first read and even better on the next.

Fears are not uncommon on the first day of school, but in a departure from traditional fare, Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum explores a mother’s worries. 

The story begins on the endpapers with an excited boy washing sleep from his eyes, brushing his teeth, and dressing himself as he readies for his first day of kindergarten.  He wakes his mother who is tinged blue and looks small and lost under her covers.  She worries, “What if you don’t have time to finish your sandwich at lunch?” but her son is not at all concerned, and he tells her, “I can eat fast, Mom.”  She worries, “Did I pack all your school supplies?”  Again her son reassures her, “Mom, I have my crayons and markers and everything.”  This pattern continues until they arrive at school, and the boy’s mom meets another student’s mother.  Brighter color and a bigger body show the mother’s growing calm, as again the illustrations reflect her emotions.  Now it’s the son himself who needs reassurance as he clings to his mother’s leg and turns a bit blue until he meets his teacher, regains his confidence, and discovers that “kindergarten is awesome”. 

Because I’ve been a mom bravely trying not to cry as I’ve left a kindergartner at the school doors, I especially appreciated the illustration of an enthusiastic son leading -- almost dragging -- his tiny blue mom by the hand.  (Been there.  Done that.)  Empowering children and comforting parents who may have their own concerns about letting young ones head to school, this book is a great twist on back-to-school anxiety.

The final book in this edition of “Three Cheers” is A Home for Bird by Philip Stead.  While out foraging, Vernon meets Bird, and although Bird says nothing, Vernon befriends him.  Vernon worries that Bird is sad, perhaps because, as Vernon’s friend Porcupine suggests, “He misses home”.  So, Vernon and Bird embark on a journey to find a home for Bird.  They travel down the river in a tea-cup boat, follow the wind in the same repurposed teacup tied to a balloon, and check out many homes along the way.  Finally, with the help of a “kind stranger," they find their way to a home that suits Bird.

Repetition of the phrase, “Bird said nothing” throughout the story invites participation (especially from the pre-school set at our house).  Panel illustrations, spot pictures, and double-page spreads combine for a perfectly-paced story.  Stead’s brightly-colored illustrations in crayon and gouache include details, such as Vernon’s trinkets, that tell a story within the story for children who take the time to really look at the pages.  Notice the gifts Vernon leaves with Skunk and Porcupine when he says goodbye.  And if you missed the first picture, as I did on my first reading, go back and take a look at the details from the moving truck that show up later in the story.

What I like most about this book is Vernon.  Yep, Vernon.  I love his expressive eyes that show sadness, concern, and happiness.  I love his determination as he pushes Bird in a teacup and his repose as he watches clouds.  I love the way he thinks the best of Bird.  When Vernon introduces bird to his friends and Bird says nothing, Vernon points out that Bird is a “very good listener."  When they float up into the sky and Bird says nothing, Vernon thinks, “Bird is very brave."  Everyone needs a friend like Vernon -- a friend who will worry about you, journey into the “great unknown” with you, and carry you when you can’t climb.


  1. I love Sophie's Fish! Especially because my kids have babysat a fish before, they find it very applicable. I need to check out the others too, they look fun.

  2. Sophie's Fish is a very fun picture book, mostly because the pictures are awesome. Also, I loved A Home for Bird; Vernon was so fun. And, Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! was not my favorite book.