We believe an extra little bite can't make a difference. One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, May 3, 2016) written by Daniel Bernstrom with pictures by Brendan Wenzel is a tantalizing tale of relinquishing common sense. Clever coaxing wins over a greedy gourmand.
One day in the leaves
of the eucalyptus tree
hung a scare in the air
where no eye could see,
when along skipped a boy
with a whirly-twirly toy,
to the shade of the eucalyptus,
The lad wasn't aware a sly snake silently moved toward him, its mouth open wide. In a blink of an eye, he was inside; inside the stomach of the wily reptile. The boy's voice called out, encouraging the cagey creature to seek another entree as there was plenty of room. Before you could say chirp, chirp a bird and his worm friend were consumed, both certain of their doom.
Deep from the dark, the little guy yelled again. Not surprisingly the snake complied, savoring an unsuspecting cat. In case you think it was getting crowded in the beast's belly, rest assured it was not. The crafty child spoke a third time with even more purpose, convincing the snake the empty space was spacious. Gulp! A sloth was much too slow.
The creature continued to devour at the boy's insistence, the size of each meal increasing. When the snake asked the child deep in the dark if
"I should take one more bite
while my tummy feels so tight?,
you know exactly what he said. In fact, after the next big swallow when the reptile could barely wobble, the boy suggested he eat more.
The snake said no once. The snake said no twice. Then he weakened seeking a teensy-weensy morsel. Ssssssip! OH! MY! GOODNESS!
With every reading as the tale unfolds and the snake's stomach grows, you can feel your grin expanding in proportion. Daniel Bernstrom's words burst forth in a fabulous rhythmic melody. His spirited verb choices, skipped, gobbled, zipped, descriptive sounds, crinkle, wrinkle, slurp, buuuuurrrrp and repetitions, especially the boy's tempting suggestions, encourage participation. Here is another sample passage.
Munch, munch came a
crunch from the leaves of the tree.
Oh! A rare kind of bear munching
tasty, tasty greens.
Readers have no idea what is about to ensue when looking at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case. The tiny critters in the trees are simply observing wide-eyed at the boy and snake duo. In fact, by the smiles on the faces of the twosome, you assume they are friends. The framing of the forest tree, flowers and vines around the title text suggests a circle, perfect for this cumulative story. To the left, on the back, readers get an entirely different sense of where this tale is going to go. The boy is held in the tight grip of the snake's tail as the open mouth is ready to swallow him whole. The same hue as used in the title text provides the background for the opening and closing endpapers.
Rendered in everything imaginable to create the digital illustrations Brendan Wenzel captures and enhances the liveliness of the narrative. His creatures of the forest and the boy see with large expressive eyes. Their body movements are in keeping with their personalities. Wenzel also manages to instill humor in his characters with their typical but exaggerated physical characteristics and habits.
Many of the images cross the gutter spanning from page edge to page edge. Wenzel fashions panels of varying sizes and shapes to signify changing scenes or portions of a single scene. Their design and layout is superb drawing our eyes to a specific place. As the belly of the snake continues to bulge the area of the visual focusing on the darkened interior increases. A bright color palette appropriate to the flora and fauna adds to the joy found on every page turn. Careful readers will notice several things on the final page of publication information in the picture.
One of my favorite of many illustrations is when the snake is about to swallow the bear. To the left and crossing a portion of the gutter is the darkened stomach of the snake with the shapes of the animals already in residence visible. We can see the whites of their frightened eyes. On the right the bulging belly of the snake extends behind a portion of its body as its large mouth aims at the rear end of the bear. The bear, mouth full of leaves, is turned looking in fright. You can't help but wonder how the snake is going to eat this big bear.
One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree story by Daniel Bernstrom with pictures by Brendan Wenzel is a read aloud treasure. It's a triumphant entry in the folklore family sure to be requested repeatedly. I know listeners are going to be joining in with the repetitious phrases. Can't you just see this performed as a reader's theater? I know I can.
To discover more about Daniel Bernstrom and Brendan Wenzel please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Brendan Wenzel has some interior images displayed. Julie Danielson, author, reviewer and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interviews Daniel Bernstrom at Kirkus (Don't miss this!) and follows with artwork on her blog the following week. Brendan Wenzel is interviewed by educator Dylan Teut at Mile High Reading.