Fuse #8

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Review of the Day: Mocking Birdies

This book's a good example of well-planned self-marketing. If you look at the Amazon reviews for it, you'll see that it's reviewed almost entirely by bloggers. Fortunately, it's also a rather nice title.

Good design. Does it help or hinder a picture book? Ask me that same question about a year ago and I would've answered you with an overly-enthusiastic "HINDER!". Ask me today and now I'm not so sure. When I read picture books like David Pelletier's laughable, Graphic Alphabet I decided to shun any title for kids that cared more about layout and composition than who its intended audience should be. Other books have had their design sillinesses, but that one in particular took the cake. Then this past December I had a chance to see David Carter's remarkable pop-up extravaganza, One Red Dot. Now there, ladies and gentlemen, is a beautifully designed book that never forgets for a second that kids may be part of its intended audience. So my opinions started to shift oh-so slightly to the maybe-well-designed-picture-books-ain't-so-bad-after-all. Good thing I did too. Otherwise I might have immediately pooh-poohed Annette Simon's amusing exercise in combining children's copycat behaviors with an upbeat well-designed cacophony of sound. Design has never had a young audience so keenly on its mind.

A single blue bird on the left-hand page looks across a vast white space and says, "You!". A single red bird on a right-hand page looks across a vast white space and says, "You!" as well. What the blue bird says, the red bird repeats. The blue bird is convinced that the red bird is doing the imitating and the red bird believes the opposite. It's only when both birds come to understand that they want the same thing that they sing together a bright purple song. Of course, this attracts the attention of a purple bird with his own purple music. He joins in the song as well, and a green and orange cat (perhaps the original copycats) say, "someone's singing my song". The book ends with the birds copying and repeating a tune of their own.

With simple shapes against a white background, the colorful birds are like little bright musical notes. They perch on telephone wires for much of this book. Those telephone wires, in turn, become the lines on a sheet of music when the birds finally indulge in out-and-out full-throated singing. The book doesn't go so far as to explain what the combinations of different primary colors are, but it still manages to get the point across. Kids can see that when the blue bird's blue lines merge with the red bird's red lines, the result is purple lines ah-plenty. The words themselves were fine. Sometimes the lines didn't scan as well as I would've liked. Sentences don't always rhyme or work, but overall they convey the bright and cheery intensity of the characters.

Out of curiosity I tried to see whether or not anyone prior to Ms. Simon had ever thought of doing a book of this nature. If mockingbirds mock then logic would dictate that there might be other copycat type picture books out there. There are, but none of them have ever dealt with mockingbirds themselves. There was Peggy Rathmann's, "Ruby the Copycat" and of course the, "Copycub" books by Richard Edwards. But insofar as birds are concerned, mockingbirds usually just appear in different picture book versions of that old song, "Hush Little Baby", and that's it. "Mocking Birdies" will be a hit with any kid just learning to read who needs bright colors and simple words to follow. It may even make fairly good readers theater if one kid takes all the blue lines and another all the red. Consider it enjoyable fare.


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