Hardly a day goes by without my wishing for the same skills, even for a few minutes, of Doctor Dolittle. We know the sounds animals make are a form of communication. What exactly is it they are saying?
If you are fortunate to share your life with one of them, after a time, you can read their expressions and body posture and understand their voices, to a degree. (Xena actually snorts now when she's disgusted with a decision I've made regarding her.) Author Karen Beaumont and illustrator Janet Stevens (The Little Red Pen, HMH Books for Young Readers, April 18, 2011) take us to an animal gathering in their new title. Wild About Us! (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 7, 2015) invites readers on a jaunty journey loaded with lively laughter.
I'M WARTY WARTHOG!
Can't be who I'm not.
I am who I am,
and I've got what I've got. ...
Warty further informs us of his utterly charming tusks and warts. This guy does not lack confidence. Crocodile smiles wide with pride. Thank you, I'll keep my distance.
Rhino decries the need for smooth relishing every single wrinkle. Trumpeting with glee Elephant gives a nod to a nose long on talent. Bending low, looking us in the eye, Giraffe's stilt-like legs are agile and strong.
Feathers boldly pink, body pleasingly rotund and travel deliberately measured are creature features joyfully shared. Should we question Porcupine, Leopard or Hippo about straight spikes, frantic freckles or a bouncing bottom? Like saucers on a ball, these ears hear all. Big feet are a bonus for this hip-hopping mom.
Thirteen animals positively proclaim their love of physical attributes. They abound with assurance and attitude. They are a zoo full of fun, every single one.
The words written by Karen Beaumont strut, stretch, peek, roll, waddle and wander across the pages in a rhyming romp. Each selected representation is familiar to readers; championing those characteristics many humans share in common, making it easy for readers to rejoice in their own uniqueness. The spirited conversational tone provides proclamations and asks questions. Here is another sample passage.
Would you dare tell Flamingo
he shouldn't be pink?
Or Potbellied Pig she's too
plump, do you think?
Rendered in watercolor and colored pencil Caldecott Honoree Janet Stevens animates these beings with her trademark pizzazz. When you look at the matching dust jacket and book case you can almost hear the animals talking or looking aloof as Flamingo is doing. On the back, to the left, we read the words
We like us just
the way we are!
as Chimp looks up. He's also watching a particular annoying buzzing insect in flight which makes an appearance on each animal. (He's pretty tricky to locate sometimes.) The opening endpapers are Leopard's fur and the closing endpapers feature Flamingo's brilliant feathers.
White space is masterfully used as an element beginning with the title pages. That pesky bug flies over from the left weaving around the text as Warthog peers out at readers from the bottom. When Warthog staunchly shouts out an introduction on the next two pages, we notice portions of text in a complementary color and a different font. This is repeated for each animal whether their words are given one, two or three pages.
Pacing is supplied with page turns, perspective and size. Readers need to turn the book vertically twice. Several times just the head of the animal will be placed in a corner followed by the entire body performing a well-known pose or activity. Faces appear from the left, top, bottom and right.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of Chimp. It's one of the two-page vertical spreads. We see a full body view of Chimp leaping in the air, mouth wide open, palms outstretched and feet moving. If you can't hear him laughing you need to look at this until you do.
I know guys and gals of all ages are going to ask to have this book, Wild About Us! written by Karen Beaumont with illustrations by Janet Stevens, read to them over and over. You can feel the exuberance of the narrative and pictures on every page. It makes you feel like dancing or giggling or both!
Please follow the links attached to Karen Beaumont's and Janet Stevens' names to access their websites. Karen Beaumont's site is under construction but she asks you to keep coming back. There is a lot to read and share at Janet Steven's site particularly if you are doing an author/illustrator study.