Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Friday, May 4, 2018

If You Build It . . .

For some children making and having friends is no easy endeavor.  For any number of reasons some of them are more reserved.  Others are louder than any situation warrants which tends to drive people away (but there is usually a reasonable explanation for the high volume).  There are girls and boys who struggle to find like-minded people.  They are indeed marching to the beat of a different drummer which is a good thing but it can be lonely.

Sometimes watching the friendships of others flourish offers hints on how to acquire friends.  Mary Had A Little Lab (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2018) written by Sue Fliess with pictures by Petros Bouloubasis is an ingenious twist on the classic nursery rhyme and song.  When the line between wanting and needing becomes blurred, the mind can make marvelous masterpieces.

Mary had a little lab.
She tested and created.
While other kids were at the park,
she built and calculated.

One day Mary momentarily tired of creating and wanted to spend time with a friend.  To her dismay she had no friends.  Watching a group of children with their pets gave her an idea.  She rode her inventive mode of transportation to a farm.  She tucked a bit of wool into a test tube and went home to her lab.

Mary worked and worked building a contraption she named the Sheepinator.  It had a bunch of buttons, tubes, wires and levers.  It was powered by a bicycle (of sorts).  The wool and a special concoction were added with care.  Mary spun the wheel with the strength of her legs and feet.

After several notable loud noises filled her lab, a creature came forth from the machine.  Mary finally had a friend, a soft, cuddly sheep.  Now this sheep was no ordinary sheep.  It was loyal and extremely helpful.  He followed Mary to school (which is no surprise).

The teacher and students loved that sheep as much as Mary.  The other children wanted one too.  Back at the lab the Sheepinator was busily making sheep.  Wait!  The Sheepinator was malfunctioning.  There were sheep everywhere.  Resourceful Mary with the help of her new friends knew exactly what to do.  She also had a new theory to try.

Even children not familiar with the majority of nursery rhymes and songs will most likely have sung with joyful abandon the words to Mary Had A Little LambSue Fliess spins a tale within an unlikely setting giving us a reason for the origin for the sheep and continues with an invention gone awry.  In her character of Mary all readers will connect to being lonely and wanting a friend.  Children will admire the manner in which Mary uses her love of science.  Each of the stanzas, poetic portions, rhymes on the second and fourth lines, each linking to the next flawlessly.  Here is a stanza.

The sheep assisted in the lab
and often helped with chores.
He carried all the groceries
and buffed the kitchen floors.

As soon as you see Mary with the quizzical expression on her face on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, you know something is not quite right.  And on closer inspection one of the sheep does happen to be wearing protective glasses.  Mary's abundance of curly red hair, lab attire, complete with rubber gloves, the pens tucked into her pocket, and the lab glass with the pink brew inside present an intriguing premise.  (You might want to take note of what one of the sheep is eating.)  Mary and the text are varnished.

To the left, on the back, the tiled classroom floor provides a background for two tables and chairs.  The four students can hardly believe a sheep is sitting next to Mary at her table. On the opening and closing endpapers the tiled floor pattern is done in green with some white squares.  Beneath the text on the title page is a picture of Mary's lab.  It looks like a charming cottage except for the gizmos popping out of the window, the wall and roof.

Each illustration, some on single pages and others on double pages, are brimming with a blend of tiny, delicate lines and bold colors.  The color palette selected by illustrator Petros Bouloubasis reflects warmth and cheer.  He alters his perspective to enhance the narrative.  Everyone will love those woolier than wooly sheep with the spindly legs and small heads.  You can't help but smile and you might even laugh out loud when you see them.

One of my many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  The background is the rose walls of the lab.  In black, like a silhouette, a machine is featured.  All the details on the machine are in white.  Hanging overhead is a single lightbulb.  Mary is wearing her signature blue lab shirt and coat, rubber gloves and glasses.  She is also wearing a construction helmet.  Her tongue is out of her mouth as she concentrates on the job at hand.  Her sheep is next to her on the left and also wearing protective glasses.  He is holding a wrench in his mouth.

To use when talking about science, innovation, friendship, nursery rhymes and songs (fractured and original), Mary Had A Little Lab written by Sue Fliess with pictures by Petros Bouloubasis is an excellent choice.  Mary is sure to inspire scientists and others who admire imagination.  I believe this book would be a delightful addition to professional and personal collections.  You might want to pair this with Mary Had a Little Glam (Sterling Children's Books, August 2, 2016) written by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

To learn more about Sue Fliess and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At the publisher's website you can view several of the beginning interior pages.  The book trailer for this title is premiered at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.  You will really enjoy the conversation between the two of them.  Mary, the featured character, is interview by Podcast Bunny Presents #5. Teacher librarian Matthew Winner helpfully hosts.

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