Monday, June 04, 2007

library theme: snails

The great thing about the public library is that it allows me to do theme weeks. Even with my large collection of picture books, I usually don't have enough books on a single subject to comprise a theme. Eliza is the one who chooses the theme. When she was a young toddler, C. and I would make a note of whatever her current obsession was (usually a specific animal), and the next time I went to the public library, I'd come home with a half dozen or so books on the subject. Now that she's a few months shy of 3 years old, she can outright tell me what she'd like to read about. For the past two weeks, we've been reading picture books starring snails. The slimy buggers wouldn't have been my choice, but this is all about what she wants.

A House for Hermit Crab, Eric Carle

A hermit crab that lives on the ocean floor has outgrown the shell he took for a home. Right away, he finds a larger shell, and the story follows his attempts to improve his home by asking other sea animals to join him.

My daughter grew more excited with each animal addition to the hermit crab's shell and insisted on pointing out each and every one on each page. Although this isn't a book about snails, one page features sea snails, one of whom joins Hermit Crab's posse to clean it of algae.

Although the story sounds odd at first blush (e.g., collecting other animals), the message is a sweet one about friendship and growing up. Hermit Crab always asks for help from other animals gently and respectfully. I don't want to ruin the ending, so I'll just say that it's not about acquisition - it's more about the symbiotic relationship Hermit Crab has with his friends.

This book features some of Carle's best crayon, paint, and collage art - the texture is fantastic.

I was charmed to see this note on the back flap about Eric Carle:

Eric Carle is the creator of many beloved books about animals, birds and insects, but he says that he feels particularly fond of Hermit Crab, the hero of this book. Perhaps this is because he was born in the month of June, under the astrological sign of the Crab. People born under this sign are said to be both creative and sensitive; they love their homes and gardens, and like to withdraw there when the outside world is stressful.
That's so me (I'm a June-born Cancer, too). Maybe that's why I liked Hermit Crab.

Snail Trail, Ruth Brown

Another reason I love the library is that this book is out-of-print. There was but a single copy in the entire city library system, but it was worth calling over to my branch.

Snail Trail begins, "Slimy Snail set out on a trail one bright and sunny morning." The snail and the trail he blazes are illustrated in extreme close-up. It's enough to give anyone squeamish of snails the willies, but kids who adore creepy-crawlies will adore the adventurous snail. Each double-page spread shows the snail going through a tunnel, down a slope, or other tricky maneuvers, which is a great way for younger toddlers to learn prepositions. The final pages zoom out to show the snail's trail in full - silvery slime and all - so that the readers can see where the snail went from a human point of view. This book would be mostly of interest to ages 1 to 3.

This was one of Eliza's two favorites for the week . . .

The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson (written) & Axel Scheffler (illustrated)

. . . which brings me to Eliza's other favorite, The Snail and the Whale. The illustrations are not hyper-realistic like those of Snail Trail - they are cartoonish in the best sense, and the snails are almost charming with their impish grins. Eliza asked to reread this book many times in the course of two weeks and often couldn't contain herself from blurting out what happens on the next pages.

"This is the tale of a tiny snail / And a great big, gray-blue humpback whale," the rhyming story opens. Having an urge to travel and see the world, the snail beseeches the whale for a ride around the world on his tail. The scenes range from icebergs to jungles to grand forests and mountains. The duo have a wonderful time until the whale is in grave danger. It's up to whale's molluscan friend to save the day. Recommended for ages 2-6.

The Secret, Lindsay Barrett George

Can a 30-something mom have a favorite snail picture book? If so, this would be mine.

Mr. Snail has a secret message for Miss Snail. He whispers it to the mouse and off it goes, being "squeaked" to the beetle, "pinched" to the turtle, and "grumbled," "swished," "croaked, "wiggled," "shook," "buzzed," and so on until it reaches Miss Snail. With such a simple story, the text could have been dumbed down in another's hands, but Lindsay Barrett George gives it such charm with her colorful word choices.

What I liked most about this book, however, were the collage illustrations that reminded me a bit of Clare Beaton's Mother Goose Remembers with its bric-à-brac collage except where the latter contains sewing notions, The Secret employs silk flowers and items from nature mingling with ink and paint. The effect is startlingly three dimensional. Recommended for ages 1-4.

The Biggest House in the World, Leo Lionni

Little snail's grandest ambition is to grow up to have the biggest house in the world. To dissuade him, his wise father tells him the story about what happened once upon a time to another snail who dreamt the same. Once that snail figured out how to enlarge his shell, there was no stopping him - eventually his shell became so unwieldy that he could no longer move. Sensitive little ones may be disturbed by the snail's implied death, but the text is vague enough ("slowly faded away") that parents may be able to sidestep this. The snail's being destroyed by his own ambition is certainly sad, but the ending of the book is hopeful. The little snail's life is ahead of him, and he gains a new appreciation for nature and sustainability. For ages 3-6.

The Snail's Spell, Joanne Ryder (written) & Lynne Cherry (illustrated)

"Imagine you are soft and have no bones inside you. Imagine you are grey, the color of smoke," the text invites the reader. A little blonde girl curls up in a garden and pretends to shrink and morph into a snail, seeing the world of the garden from a new perspective. The Snail's Spell differs from other picture books with snails in that it brings up the different body parts of the snail and what they're used for.

My daughter was very quiet and attentive as we read this each time (usually she's animated and has conversations with books). I didn't think it was as big of a hit as The Snail and the Whale, but she enjoyed it in a different way. Her father was amused to see her slithering across the carpet pretending to be a snail. For ages 2-5.

The Snail House, Allan Ahlberg (written) & Gillian Tyler (illustrated)

This horse of a different color is the James and the Giant Peach of picture books. The children's grandmother entertains them with a fantastical story about siblings who shrank so small they were shorter even than a snail's feelers. They move into the snail's shell ("And it was a proper house too, with a door and windows, roof and chimney, table, chairs, three little beds, curtains, and crockery - everything!") where they travel through the garden having little adventures. For ages 3-7.

The Happy Day, Ruth Krauss (written) & Marc Simont (illustrated)

Winter has come, and all the animals are hibernating. When they suddenly wake up and race from their dens and burrows. What has captured their attention? The Happy Day is illustrated almost completely in pencil shades of grey, well-suited to the barrenness of winter, but also imparting a soft charcoal warmth to the animals. This is a short, simple story, and a well-done and subtle one at that. For ages 1-4.

How Many Snails?: A Counting Book, Paul Giganti, Jr. (written) & Donald Crews (illustrated)

Last and also least is How Many Snails?. The text and the illustrations are deathly boring. It tries to be more than just another counting book by asking the child to count only a subset of the items on the page (e.g., "How many clouds were big and fluffy? How many clouds were big and fluffy and gray?"). My daughter's only source of amusement was in pointing out that some of the dogs were wearing necklaces (they looked like pearl chokers). Neither she nor I have a high opinion of this book. I expected much, much better from the illustrator of Freight Train.

As for the snails, there's exactly one double-page spread of them. The book has no more to do with snails than it does clouds, dogs, or cupcakes.


Elaine said...

That is a brilliant idea! I'll have to start that will Lily and Anya and see what they are really interested in learning about!

chanale said...

Thanks! Nina of Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea inspired me to start writing about picture books. I've been meaning to do so for ages because I often can't remember what we read after the books are returned to the library.

I think our next theme will be fruit unless Eliza comes up with something else before our library trip this afternoon.

Jenny said...


I found your blog by way of Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea. I really like what you've done with your blog, with the food (I won't buy South American grapes either!) and now the book recommendations. I see lots that have caught my eye already! I haven't done weekly themes with my daughter yet (she'll be 2 1/2 next month), but I love the idea. Glad I found your blog!

chanale said...

Hi there! I don't quite have a focus for this yet. I just figured I'd write about day-to-day life with my daughter. I'm going to start writing about books regularly from now on, and another thing I'd like to do is to post about her art days. I should just pick a day of the week to write about each so I don't forget.