Humour, colourful and cartoonish art, plus clever text can go a long way toward teaching kids vocabulary and facts, much like “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” (as the Sherman brothers’ lyrics told us in Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins film). Below, two books that entertain as well as educate:
How to Promenade with a Python (And Not Get Eaten)
illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Ages 7 to 77
This new volume is aimed at young readers, but its colourful artwork and lively design, not to mention its clever text and surprising content, are bound to give it broader appeal. (Even at my advanced age, I learned things about pythons I had never known before: that they’re nocturnal, for example, and that a row of tiny holes called “heat pits” allow pythons to “see animal heat even in pitch-black darkness” — just like night-vision goggles.) The word “nocturnal” is defined in the text, as are words like “promenade” and “reticulated.”
The book has a narrator — Celeste, a cockroach who is not only stylish and chic but notes that “me and my kind have been around for 300 million years.” As such, she assures the reader she can teach “how to survive the polite predators in your life, the sly ones that ask you to stroll in the moonlight or have tea on a terrace.”
Enlisting the aid of a 300-pound, 23-foot-long python named Frank, she sets out to do just that in eight steps (or brief chapters) filled with python facts and imaginative ways to circumvent them.
For example, in Step 3: Speed Frank Up, we learn that a python’s rectilinear motion is “very smooth and elegant, but very, very slow. You probably walk three times faster than Frank’s top speed.”
Celeste’s solution? She recommends roller skates, but admits that it’s probably a bad idea since Frank would need one skate every 24 inches “so his belly doesn’t rub the ground between skates” and lifting him up to attach the skates (Celeste suggests using ribbons) will be no easy task.
Author Rachel Poliquin, based in Vancouver, has given Celeste a chatty voice that keeps the facts-filled text from sounding pedantic, and Toronto’s Kathryn Durst not only matches the text but extends it with her comically funny depiction of the characters and their actions. I’m delighted this talented team will tackle other “polite predators” in future, with How to High Tea with a Hyena (And Not Get Eaten) slated for release next January.
Arlo & Pips: King of the Birds
Ages 4 to 8
Montreal’s Elise Gravel brings us the first volume in what her publisher calls “a graphic chapter-book series” about a clever but sometimes obnoxious crow and “his astute sidekick — a chick named Pips.”
Gravel’s distinctive stylized art features clean and simple lines, presented in a comic-strip format. She introduces us to Arlo the crow, who crowns himself “king of the feathered world” and goes on to brag about his abilities to a small yellow chick who takes the crow’s crowing with a grain of salt.
Throughout the minimal text, sidebars of facts about crows are marked with a small red star. We’re told, for example, that crows can imitate various sounds, have bigger brains than most birds and love to collect shiny things. Book 2 in the series — Join the Crow Crowd! — is scheduled for release in August.
— Bernie Goedhart