As soon as you catch a glimpse of certain illustrators' work, it's hard not to smile. There are some where a longer look will bring on gales of laughter before you even open the cover. You've established a previous relationship with their pictures; the emotion reflected in a character's eye or a toothy grin are all you need.
The first time I read What Will Fat Cat Sit On? (Harcourt, 2007), I closed the back cover, flipped it over and read it again, laughing even more than the first time. I could hardly wait to share it with every single class. It was the same with Rhyming Dust Bunnies (Beach Lane Books, 2009). In fact books penned and pictured by Jan Thomas are pretty much guaranteed to tickle your funny bone.
Without missing a beat the story begins on the opening endpapers (and concludes on the closing endpapers). Readers are treated to a two page spread of a nighttime scene with our three characters.
Time to hit the hay, little cows.
The rhyming lullaby begins with the two cows, hooves clasped heads nodding to the tune as they relax. YIKES! What was that? He should have said good night, right? I mean, it rhymes with tight, right?
What's with Eeeeek! Sleep is definitely not on the cows' minds now. They are looking decidedly startled. Brave cowboy is frightened by what appears to be a gigantic spider.
It's only a flower, of course. Let's start again. Verse one, verse two, verse three and with eyelids drooping the bovine buddies are again surprised by a scream from their singer. Is it a snake or a stick?
The man-about-the-ranch can't even begin until they reassure him a third time about a huge moving shadow's identity. When another shadow approaches, he assumes nonchalantly there is absolutely nothing to fear. He's learned his lesson.
One look at the cows and the reader knows what their now fearless leader does not. Eeeeek! is heard once more but who's screaming now? With a comic twist that will leave readers howling our brave cowboy croons the complete tune. Well...almost.
Jan Thomas fills forty pages with fun through her well-paced, strategically-placed words. Her use of alliteration heightens the tension in brave cowboy's questions. Her technique of contrasting the cowboy's dialogue with that of the cows' replies toward the end provides for even more hilarity. Like the best of comedians her punch line is priceless.
All of the illustrations in this title are spread across two pages using bold black outlines characteristic of Thomas titles. Liberal use of deep blue and purple backgrounds frame her larger than life characters. Spoken entirely in dialogue, prominent speech bubbles hold the narrative. Red is used to highlight emotion in the text to great effect.
The popularity of Jan Thomas books can be attributed to the pairing of her spare text with her expressive illustrations. I can promise you one reading of Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy will not suffice. Get ready for multiple readings and copies. You might also want to locate your cowboy hat and boots.
Please follow the link to Jan Thomas' website embedded in her name. There is a link to a three minute audio musical introduction complete with narration and the singing of the lullaby. It will make for a rollicking ranch read aloud.