From The Record, December 1st, 2017
This week’s column doesn’t deep-dive into any particular parenting issues or explore a particular theme. I simply felt inspired to write a review/recommendation for two books by the same talented and creative children’s lit team. When I was studying education at Bishops, I recall a teacher asking me why I chose a particular book for a lesson plan. I momentarily hesitated, because the reason was simply because I liked the book. It was fun. I enjoyed reading it. There was not a particular learning intention behind the choice. She comforted me in my hesitancy, and reminded me that instilling a joy of reading—just because!—is actually an awesome intention. These two books bring me joy, and consequently bring joy to my children and anyone else I read to.
“A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.”
I first heard the story “The Gruffalo” as told by my friend Nick around a campfire. He is a Dad to three wonderful kids and when he was just a wee lad he memorized the entire text to this beloved book written by Julia Donaldson. I was delighted when I later saw the actual book, and was able to appreciate the pages whimsically illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
The Gruffalo was originally published in the UK in 1999 and has sold over 13 million copies. This book has delighted a generation of children with its rhyming tale of a clever mouse who outsmarts all the predators of the forest by convincing them that he is in fact the fiercest, scariest creature in the woods. The mouse encounters a fox, an owl, and a snake, all of whom run off because Mouse claims to be meeting a scary creature called the Gruffalo. Then when the Gruffalo really appears, the mouse shifts gears and shows him that the animals he passed earlier are afraid of the tiny mouse because he is the meanest, most bad creature in the woods. In the end (spoiler alert!) the mouse prevails and the story concludes with one of my favourite lines ever written for children’s literature:
“All was quiet in the deep dark wood, the Mouse found a nut, and the nut was good”
The Gruffalo is a delightful read for children and adults alike. This a quality many parents and adult readers are desperately seeking in a world of at-best mindless and at-worst deeply irritating children’s media. The Gruffalo also has a sequel, “Gruffalo’s Child”. This book is also very enjoyable, although in my opinion not so much as the original. Even so, the combination of clever rhyming text and amusing art work makes this book a massive success and inspired me to investigate more works by this dynamic duo.
“Give me your buns and your biscuits! Give me your chocolate éclairs!’
The Highway Rat (available at the Lennoxville Library) also by Julia Donaldson and illustrated Axel Scheffler is a more recent publication, released in 2011. This book tells the story of a bully rat, who seeks desserts from all who pass by him on his highway. He gets more than he bargains for. He takes clover from a rabbit; nuts from a squirrel, he even goes as far as stealing his own horse’s hay. Ultimately his bad deeds and greed are his undoing, and he is thwarted by a clever duck. This book, like other works by Donaldson, is written in rhyming verse that is a pleasure to read aloud. This book is written as an ode to and in the style of the famous Alfred Noyes poem, “The Highwayman”. (Nothing like sneaking a little poetry study into your preschooler’s reading list!) Another of my favourite elements of this book and other books illustrated by Scheffler, is that he hides little Easter eggs in the illustrations. In the Highway Rat, near the end, we see young animals in a bakery eating Gruffalo shaped cookies.
As the weather gets colder and the nights are long and dark, cozy story-time seems more and more inviting. Snuggle up on the couch or your favourite chair with your children or grandkids and check out some delightful stories from your local library. There is no other reason required than the fact that they are fun to read.
Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! A chance to get out, see some fine artwork, and perhaps check off a few more on the Christmas gift list. The Lennoxville Art Group is mounting a Christmas and winter-themed exhibit. There will be an introductory vernissage and sale of mini paintings at the Lennoxville Library this coming Saturday December 2nd, from 11 am to 2 pm. The exhibit itself will run until the Library closing for Christmas. The mini paintings sale (at very affordable prices!) is only on Saturday, December 2 . Come have coffee, tea, and cookies and encourage your local artists. Free admission!