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Monday, January 08, 2007

The Best Picture Book I Read Today

Let me start by saying that I read a LOT of picture books today. Bougie was home and it was drippy so we went to Politics and Prose and the Cleveland Park Library. And CVS, but that was just so we could buy some more modeling clay to make an igloo for Pinga, the black and white modeling clay blob she made in the likeness of the sister of Pingu, the claymation penguin of short-film fame.

Most of the books we read were about Peter and the Wolf. Seriously: three separate books, read multiple times each. Bougie tends to get a little obsessed when she's on a topic and this week it is Peter and his orchestral pals. The narratives were so similar that it was almost like reading the same book nine times which, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, puts this whole stay-home-and-bond-with-your-kid-a-few-days-a-week thing to the test. The pictures varied, thank God, yet none of the illustrators strayed too far from the basic concept. Peter always wore a tunic, the wolf was always gray and sinister, the final spread was always a parade to the zoo. Yawn.

But then, behold, another book entered the scene. I almost passed over it because of the title, My Best Sweet Potato, which suggested an overly syruppy narrative (e.g. "Love You Like Crazy Cakes"... which may well be a good book, but which I will likely never read because of the title). Thankfully, the cover illustration, a girl in a weird oversized patchwork bathing cap pulling a string protruding from a faceless gingerbread man of a doll, piqued my curiousity.

The book, by Rainy Dohaney, the author/illustrator of the similarly ideosyncratic Tinka, is just about the best thing I've discovered in ages. It tells the tale of an odd girl who stubbornly loves her almost scarily faceless ugly doll, Woolyman (who is not, just to be clear, an Uglydoll, all of which have at least one eye), and who actually loves him more after the washing machine renders him unable to talk normally. Post spin cycle, he barfs out botched phrases, all of which include the words "Sweet Potato." Still, he's good company, hanging out, playing games, and willingly eating jam sandwiches without benefit of a mouth, to humorous effect.

This totally rang true for me, since my childhood doll, Alice Winn Luis (which I named in honor of my mom's friend Alice Winn and "Luis" from Sesame Street) went from saying "Mama" to "Ma" to "burrrrp!!" and, now that Bougie has her, only says "ugh." During our read-aloud, Bougie seemed to particularly like it when I said the words "sweet potato" with a wacky kind of rhythm to them, like a skipping vinyl record. I like to believe this is how the author intended them to be read.

The illustrations are wonderful (reminiscent of Peter Sis and Sergio Ruzzier) and I loved Mac the Weaverbird (the character who briefly comes between the girl and her Woolyman) for his friendly-stoner voice (he calls Woolyman "buddy" and "man" repeatedly). Both of my kids got into this book, which was particularly pleasing since Franny has been showing an alarming amount of interest in books about American Girls and Rainbow Magic Fairies lately. I was starting to wonder if her literary tastes were shorting out at the ripe old age of seven. Luckily, she redeemed herself by getting on board with My Best Sweet Potato. Her gushing "That was a GOOD book!" at the book's close was genuine and heartfelt.

Too bad the next words out of her mouth were, "Do we still have time for a chapter of 'Kit's Surprise'?"

Hey, could be worse, I guess. Could be round ten (eleven? twelve?) of Peter and the Wolf.

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