Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eye of the Beholder

Is it the apple that catches the bear’s eye in Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett? I’m not telling. At least… not yet. What I really admire about the way that Emily Gravett presents the four elements of the book—the orange, the pear, the apple and the bear—is that she paints them almost like still life portraits. At least, with the fruit. The bear is true-to-life, too, except that he (or she) has so much personality.

But then Emily Gravett plays with all of the elements by bending the rules. She paints the bear orange, wearing a human expression, as if contemplating a decision. Later, she gives him an apple shape and a pear shape. But when the bear licks its lips, that’s our first clue that it may have other ideas in mind. That bear may have designs on those fruits.

Youngest children may or may not pick up on all of that right away, but they will immediately notice the way Emily Gravett plays with colors and shapes. The way she approaches perception here, with such simplicity yet such wit, reminded me of another of my very favorite books, It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw. He uses the shapes clouds make; Gravett uses fruits. But the way both of them make unusual images out of everyday objects encourage children to use their imaginations. “It looked like a rabbit. But it wasn’t a rabbit,” writes Shaw of a rabbit-shaped cloud. Gravett uses even fewer words. “Pear bear.” It looks like a pear, but it’s a bear.

Books like these change a morning walk or an afternoon stroll through the supermarket. Children begin to compare things that are new to them to other things that are familiar. And that not only encourages the imagination, but if we encourage them to make these connections, they begin to feel at home wherever they are.

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