Friday, March 12, 2010

It's spring!

Dare we say it? Spring has arrived here in New York. Temperatures have been climbing to near 60 degrees, and the sun has been out (today being an exception…). And we children’s book fans know that can mean only one thing: Bunnies and flowers and birds!

Tao Nyeu celebrates not just spring, but also summer and fall in Bunny Days, her three tales about six white bunnies. With a disarmingly simple text and artwork, she introduces the cycle of nature to toddlers who are often the first to notice a bird, frog or butterfly in our midst.

Perhaps my favorite quality about the book, because it’s so difficult to do well, is the way Tao Nyeu plays with fact and fancy. Would someone vacuum the leaves outside, and thus accidentally vacuum up the bunnies from their warren? Would real bunnies hang on the clothes line to dry after a spin in the washing machine? Of course not! But the nature of the illogical scenarios allows toddlers and preschoolers in on the joke. They already know how bunnies behave. They already know that vacuum cleaners belong inside, not outside. Just as they know balls are outside toys—or at least, they know that balls don’t belong in the living room.

Yet, because of the way Mr. and Mrs. Goat come across in the artwork, it seems perfectly plausible that they would vacuum outside or accidentally clip a cottontail while trimming the hedges. They always seem just a bit absentminded or distracted. And this leads to the other fun, gentle commentary: the bunnies are always alert and aware. So the contrast between the bunnies and Mr. and Mrs. Goat lays the groundwork for the jokes. Luckily, Bear is as alert as the bunnies and always has a solution for both the Goats and the bunnies. And because Bear is neither male nor female, goat nor bunny, Bear can be whoever the toddler reader needs Bear to be—loving guardian, caregiver, teacher, aunt or uncle.

I’ll stop there, but let me just say that this book rewards multiple readings. Each time I do, I am ever more impressed with what Nyeu accomplishes with so few words, colors, and brushstrokes.

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