If you were asked to name your top three favorite things, what would come into your mind first? Consistently my three are children, books and dogs in equal measure. I have the deepest affection for them and what they teach me. For more years than I can remember the trio have been woven into the days of my life, more than once at the same time.
One of the many gifts children and dogs give is their joy for life. They have an ability to embrace everything they do with their entire being. All their senses are used in each situation. It's a total experience for them. This approach asks adults (me) to slow down and savor the moment. Rachel Isadora (Caldecott Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor for Ben's Trumpet) invites us to do the same with her newest title, I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!)(Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House L. L. C., January 12, 2016).
I hear the birdie.
I hear the bee.
I don't hear the worm.
Six pages are devoted to I HEAR, I SMELL, I SEE and I TOUCH. I TASTE is given four pages. Little children from various ethnic backgrounds explore their surroundings with curiosity. They respond to their discoveries with wonder, delight, frustration, fear, disgust, puzzlement, gratitude and hope.
They walk through the woods or along a sandy beach. They roam in their homes, make snowmen and play baseball. They look at food anxious to eat or not sure if they want to eat. They get colds. A barnyard harboring a cow or field full of flowers is where they tip toe carefully and find treasures.
Up high or down low sights are revealed. The shift between light and dark makes a huge difference. Wishes are made, words are read, a ball is thrown and a balloon is set adrift. Some little critters can be touched, others cannot. Textures are felt or avoided. Accidents happen and a wide circle is given to trouble.
Flavors are favored, spicy, salty, hot, cold and sweet. You'll never be sure if you like something unless you try it. Aren't shared treats the best? Yum!
Simple, short sentences easily understood by younger readers define these children's awareness of their senses. Rachel Isadora writes as if she is a child hearing, smelling, seeing, touching and tasting each of these things, perhaps for the first time. The children express a fascination in the commonplace which in my mind is a little bit magical. Here are several other sentences.
I smell the rain.
I smell the grass!
It's so fresh!
I don't like to smell cow poop.
The liberal use of white space seen on the matching dust jacket and book case is continued throughout the book. It accentuates the delicate lines in ink and soft shades of watercolor rendered by Rachel Isadora. A glossy sheen is on the title text, CRUNCH!, the pickle, the jar of pickles and along the pickle-filled spine. To the left, on the back, are the words
On the right each sense is listed as it is on the table of contents page in a vertical column with a tiny interior illustration to the right of the words,
The opening and closing endpapers are in pickle green. Beneath the words on the title page is the jar of pickles.
On each of the two pages, Isadora has placed four, five, six, seven or eight small images of children enhancing her text. Their clothing and hair styles are appropriately adorable as are their facial looks and body postures. They are completely engaged in their activities so they are rarely directly facing the reader.
Each picture looks as though it's been plucked from a living moment. Each little boy, girl, adult, dog or cat is placed in a complete setting. When the child does not hear snow, they are standing in front of a snowman amid falling flakes. A little girl who smells pizza is standing outside a shop gazing through a window at a pizza with the sign JOE'S PIZZA hanging in the window. Behind her people are walking down the street. A car is parked by the curb. When a little boy kneels to smell flowers they are all around him. A kitten is playfully reaching for two blue butterflies behind him. Careful readers will notice changes at the top of the pages as the book is read.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of two girls playing with bubbles. The one on the right is blowing them outward with a jar in one hand and the wand in the other. To her left the other is standing on her tiptoes reaching to pop them. A puppy is between them on his/her two back legs trying to catch one. This scene is marvelously normal but beautiful when depicted by Isadora.
I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora has convinced me that I need to start a list of books that are huggable. Readers and listeners will be compelled to do so even before they've heard a single sentence. Look at the front dust jacket image! I also predict the entire book will not be finished without readers or listeners thinking of similar experiences or wanting to add other things they hear, smell, see, touch and taste. You might want to have a huge jar of pickles handy too.
To learn more about the art work and books created by Rachel Isadora please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. Her dancer paintings are lovely. This title was part of a NPR episode, The Children's Bookshelf, on Central Michigan University's station. They have some activities and discussion questions listed at the end.
UPDATE: February 4, 2016 Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson interviews Rachel Isadora at Kirkus today.