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Clown by Quentin Blake: A wordless delight.

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Clown

Picture Book

Ages 2-10

By Quentin Blake

32 pages

Henry Holt

1996

 

 

The work of Quentin Blake has appeared before on TurtleAndRobot.com,  here and here. He is perhaps my most favorite illustrator. Fortunately for me, he is extremely prolific. Unfortunately for me, I may never be able to collect all his books. His skilled storytelling, expert lines, quirky style and exceptional art never cease to amaze me. Clown, a wordless picture book, is among my favorite picture books ever. Blake’s generous palette is radiant and expansive. The story is sweet and sad; the art, as always, is active and expressive.

Though this is his only wordless picture book to date, Blake’s art often needs no words; with a quick line and a splash of color he is able to convey more energy and emotion in one panel that some artists can achieve in an entire book. The small and elite group that I consider to be in the same realm of Blake’s artistic genius includes only two other illustrators: Shel Silverstein and Tomi Ungerer. Each of these men is able to breathe irrepressible life into a single line. Though the style may appear to be easy and uncomplicated it is in fact richly complex and expertly crafted.

Wordless picture books can be off-putting to some adults—they panic, “What do I read if there are no words?” But a wordless book can be liberating. Readers have an opportunity to change the story every time they tell it. The story is right there in the pictures and how it’s told is up to the reader. Wordless books offer children and adults an opportunity to observe the action, follow a sequence of events and tell their own version of what they perceive. Wordless stories can aid in developing visual literacy, narrative skills and creativity. Freed from the confines of text, novel nuances emerge every time the book is opened.

 

Clown opens with a grandmotherly figure descending the steps of a brownstone, her hands full of old, worn dolls. Into the garbage they go; the lifeless toys oblivious to their new unfortunate situation. In the next spread, a surprised Clown—who is amongst the recently discarded—looks around in dismay and quickly wriggles free. He drops to the ground and brushes himself off. Noticing his ragged shoes, the quick-thinking Clown roots through the neighboring pile of garbage and finds himself a sporty pair of high-top sneakers. The rejuvenated Clown is off and running!

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He soon spots a young child and rushes to tell her his story, but before he can finish she is scooped up by her parents and taken away. The baffled Clown is wondering what to do next when he’s picked up by an adult and promptly added to a group of costumed children being photographed. Clown, growing distressed, tells his story to a young girl dressed in a fairy costume. She happily picks Clown up and takes him with her. When she arrives at home her mother promptly throws the used toy out the window.

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Clown lands safely on the street and is immediately chased down by an angry dog. The situation seems dire but the ever-energetic Clown jumps onto a crate and puts on a show of acrobatics for the now bewildered dog. Just then, the dog’s owner comes along and Clown quickly finds himself being tossed aside again.

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He flies through the air and lands inside a home where a woeful caretaker is desperately trying to comfort a crying child. Clown’s unexpected appearance shocks them both. Without delay, the charming Clown begins entertaining his new audience. Swiftly relieved of their tears, the guardian and her charge are won over. Once again he explains his predicament. Clown and the caretaker quickly come to an agreement: he will help her clean up the house before the child’s mother arrives and she will help him rescue his friends from the garbage.

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The new friends work wonderfully together and the apartment is soon in perfect order. Clown, caretaker and baby head out to liberate the toys from their difficult situation. After retrieving his rejected comrades from the garbage, Clown finds a lovely blue ribbon for the babysitter’s hair and a bouquet of flowers to decorate the apartment; the jovial trio returns home.

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When the tired-looking mother arrives, she’s surprised and delighted to find a happy child, a clean home and a menagerie of new friends. Clown rests happily, his ordeals behind him, with his old friends and his new family.

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Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: World’s best boy detective.

Nate the GreatNatetheGreat

Early Reader

Ages 3-9

By Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Illustrated by Marc Simont

64 pages

1972

Delacorte Press

 

 

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat has published over one hundred and thirty books, though her Nate the Great books, with twenty-six in the series, are the most well known. Her descriptive text and direct dialogue are peppered with a dry humor. With the exception of one single word—Nate sports rubbers, instead of boots, in the rain—this forty-year old story holds timeless appeal.

This is the fifth book illustrated by Marc Simont to be reviewed in this blog. Like his art in A Tree is Nice, the spreads alternate between color and black and white. Simont uses vivid pinks and bold yellows in one spread and warm grays and lush blacks in the next. No matter the medium, Simont’s art is always expressive and energetic, pleasing and comfortable.

 

“My name is Nate the Great. I am a detective. I work alone.”

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Using classic hard-boiled detective language, Nate tells readers about his latest case: helping his friend Annie find a lost picture.

He’d just finished a breakfast of pancakes (Nate loves pancakes) when she called and enlisted his help. He donned his trench coat and Sherlock Holmes style hat and headed straight out to Annie’s, but not before leaving a note for his mother.

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When he arrived at Annie’s she was just sitting down to a pancake breakfast, so Nate joined her. They discussed the missing picture. Using bright yellow paint, Annie had painted a picture of her dog Fang the day before and left it out to dry, and then it was gone.

After breakfast, Nate searched Annie’s room. He was already sure of one thing, Annie liked yellow.

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He asked her who had seen the picture.

“My friend Rosamond has seen it, and my brother Harry. And Fang.”

Nate started with Fang. Fang was big, with big teeth. Nate watched him eat, then he watched him bury a bone. Nate had an idea that maybe Fang took the picture and buried it, but after two hours of digging in the backyard Nate and Annie only found rocks, worms, bones and ants.

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It was time for more pancakes.

“Cold pancakes are almost as good as hot pancakes.”

Nate and Annie when to Rosamond’s house next. Rosamond was dubious of Nate’s detective status so she asked him to solve a case of her own: find her missing cat, Super Hex. Rosamond had four cats, all named Hex, and a house full of cat paraphernalia. Nate sat down and Big Hex jumped onto his lap. Nate wanted to leave immediately; he stood up to go and stepped on something long and black. There was a loud meow. He’d stepped on the tail of Super Hex, who’d been hiding under the chair. The case inside a case had been solved. Nate and Annie left.

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Nate knew Rosamond did not take the picture, she clearly only liked cats. They headed back to Annie’s house to question to her brother Harry. Like Annie, Harry liked to paint; the walls of his room were covered in his art. There was painting of a red house, one of a red clown, and one of a red tree. There was also a painting of a three-headed monster but that one was orange.

“I, Nate the Great, have found your picture.”

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Annie was confused; Nate explained. All of Harry’s paintings were done in red paint, except the monster. Annie’s picture of Fang was yellow. When you mix yellow and red you get orange. Harry had painted his red, three-headed monster over Annie’s yellow picture of Fang. The case was solved.

‘“I don’t know how to thank you,” Annie said.”’

“I do,” Nate said. “Are there any pancakes left?”

 

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May 23rd is World Turtle Day!

I was born loving turtles. Okay, I’m not completely positive this is true but I know I cannot recall a time I didn’t love turtles. My pet red-eared slider, Earl, has lived with me for over twenty years. Here he is doing yoga.

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My large collection of turtle figurines resides next to Earl’s tank. My collection of children’s books featuring turtles takes up a whole shelf. And what better day to share a few of those books than World Turtle Day?

 

Turtle and SnailTurtle&Snail

Beginning Reader

Ages 4-8

By Zibby Oneal

Illustrated by Margot Tomes

48 pages

Lippincott

1979

Out of Print

 

Poor Snail, he just wants a friend but “nobody wants a friend in a shell.” A shell can’t hop or fly or fit in a hole. Then Snail meets Turtle! Now they each have a friend in a shell.

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When Snail gives Turtle a mud pie for his birthday, Fly, Ant and Bee all tell him that turtles don’t eat mud, but Snail knows what his friend likes. Snail brings the gift to his friend. Turtle loves it so much that he promptly sits on it.

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Turtle explains that turtles don’t eat mud; they love to sit in it! But Snail is so sad that he pulls his head far into his shell and doesn’t hear how much Turtle loves his present.

Snail, convinced that Turtle thinks he is dumb, decides he must find a new friend. But Baby Robin and Fly flew off and Ant ran down a hole, so Snail decides to visit Turtle one more time. He finds Turtle stuck on his back in the tall grass. Snail gets Grasshopper, Ant, Fly and Baby Robin to help tip Turtle back onto his feet. Now they are all good friends!

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The Great Turtle DriveTurtleDrive

Picture Book

Ages 4-8

By Steve Sanfield

Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer

32 pages

Knopf

1996

Out of Print

 

An old man, who used to be quite a cowboy, tells a story from his youth about how he made and lost a million dollars before he was old enough to vote. After a long cattle drive he liked to enjoy a meal at Frenchy’s Gourmet Eating Establishment and Pizza Parlor in Kansas City. During one such meal he had the best thing he’d ever eaten in his life, a bowl of turtle soup. Although it was quite delicious, he was shocked to see the teeny tiny bowl cost an overpriced $4.00!

He had an idea, he would head back to his home state of Texas to capture as many turtles as he could and sell them to the restaurant.

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Before long he had a herd of twenty thousand turtles. He was going to be rich! But first he had to get them to Frenchy’s. He was unable to recruit any of his fellow cowboys for the turtle drive, and was forced to go it alone.

Driving turtles was slow going, and the tired cowboy couldn’t get a moments rest; as soon as he stopped circling the herd, the turtles would start to disperse. The cowboy realized that he could flip the turtles on their back and keep them from deserting. He finally got some rest.

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Soon he realized that all the walking was rough on those little turtle feet; in lieu of turtle shoes he slipped large paper clips onto the turtles’ feet. The paper clips worked, and the turtles moved faster, but winter was coming and they needed to be protected from the cold. The cowboy paid a farmer to dig a trench so the turtles could hibernate.

When the cowboy dug up the turtles in the spring his herd had grown to forty-two thousand! Though they were moving faster, it was a long way from Texas to Kansas City and it took many years. Each winter the cowboy buried the herd, and each spring he’d dig them up to find more, until he had five hundred thousand turtles!

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After five years had passed, they all arrived in Kansas City. Frenchy’s had closed! So, they all turned around and headed back to Texas. Good thing they knew the way!

 

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My Turtle Died Today

MyTurtleDied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Book

Ages 4-7

By Edith G. Stull

Illustrated by Mamoru Funai

28 pages

Holt, Rinehart and Winston

1964

Out of Print

 

This is a delightfully odd book with some very funny non-sequiturs. Also, the illustrations reek of 1964 and are clearly stereotypical of that era. Think: the artwork on greeting cards you’d find stored away in an old case in someone’s attic.

Our narrator, a nameless young boy, is very upset; his turtle, Boxer, is sick. The boy asks his father what to do. His father says to give Boxer some food but it doesn’t help. He asks his teacher but she says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help turtles. Ask the pet shop man.”

When the boy asks the pet shop man to help Boxer, Mr. Riley says “Boxer will die.” (Don’t sugar coat it Mr. Riley!) Then Boxer dies.

The boy cries. Then he puts Boxer in a small wood box, ties a ribbon around it and buries it near the old oak tree. Then this happens:

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“Tommy said, “Leave food for Boxer.” I said, “No, dead turtles don’t eat.” Billy said, “Leave water for Boxer.” I said, “No dead turtles don’t drink.” Tommy said, “Is Boxer in heaven?” Billy said, “My mother’s in heaven.” I said, “But now you have a new mother.” Billy said, “Yes, now I have two mothers.”

Then, on the very next page, this happens.

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‘”What’s that?” Tommy said. There in the leaves, near the kitchen door, Patty’s babies had just been born. “There are three babies,” Billy said. “Look at Patty lick them,” Tommy said. One of the kittens made the funniest cry. It was hungry.”

While the boys play with the kittens, Tommy asks if the kittens will die too. Billy says, “All living things must die.” The narrator says the kittens will not die for a long time.

“They have to live first, before they die.”

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“Billy said, “I’m hungry. Tommy said, “Me too. Let’s go to my house to get something to eat.” I said, “Yes, let’s go get something and we will bring something for Patty to eat. She is hungry, too.”‘

The boys headed to Tommy’s house to have lunch. The end.

No, seriously.

 

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Turtle Time: A Bedtime StoryTurtleTime

Picture book

By Sandol Stoddard

Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

32 pages

Houghton Mifflin

1995

Out of Print

 

Lynn Munsinger has illustrated several books for children, including Tacky the Penguin. It’s probably no surprise that Turtle Time is my favorite of her books; it’s also one of my favorite turtle books. The title refers to the act of a turtle pulling in his head and limbs—going inside himself—for some quiet time; it’s also something our young narrator, an exuberant red-haired girl, likes to do. She crawls into her bed, snuggles deep under the covers and enjoys a little peace.

In a bouncy, sing-song-y rhyme, the young girl—wearing the most adorable red shoes—tells the story of finding a small turtle egg that was in the process of hatching. Once the baby turtle fully emerged, the joyous girl named him Fred and promised to bring him home to keep her company. She imagines all the wonderful activities they will share!

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But when she picked him up, he retracted into his mobile home. The persistent miss brings Fred home anyway. Eventually, he peeks out from his shell and has this to say;

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“And when I hold him in my hand, we close our eyes and understand. Our little song, our little rhyme, and when I need a nap I climb, into my bed for turtle time, turtle time.

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The Flying Tortoise: An Igbo TaleFlyingTortoise

Picture Book

Retold by Tololwa M. Mollel

Illustrated by Barbara Spurll

32 pages

Clarion Books

1994

 

Tololwa M. Mollel, a Maasai from Arusha, Tanzania, retells this Nigerian myth of how the tortoise got his shell. Barbara Spurll’s vibrantly colored illustrations are full of emotion and character.

 

Mbeku was a vain and selfish tortoise. He was extremely proud of his smooth and shiny shell. Because he was so magnificent, he believed he deserved more food than any other creature in the forest. Mbeku had an insatiable appetite and was always eager to eat.

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One day he came upon a group of birds celebrating; the king of Skyland had invited the Earth-dwellers to a feast! Mbeku yearned to attend even though he did not have the means to travel to Skyland. He convinced each of the birds to give him a feather so that his (only) friend Ngwele could fashion a set of wings so that he could fly.

When the birds and Mbeku arrived in Skyland, Mbeku tricked the birds and consumed the entire feast himself. The angry birds pounced on the trickster and tore apart his wings. Now he had no way of getting home! Mbeku put on a great show of apologizing and pleading for forgiveness until the birds eventually took pity on him.

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Mbeku decided he would have to jump from Skyland and tells the birds to ask Ngwele to build a giant soft pile so he could land softly. The birds agreed and flew back to Earth. But one small swallow, still in a nearby bush, overheard Mbeku mocking the silly birds for trusting him yet again. The swallow immediately flew off to tell the others. Tired of playing the fools, the birds decided to teach the deceiving tortoise a lesson—instead of a soft pile, they ask Ngwele to build a pile of the hardest things she can find.

Mbeku, unaware that his duplicitous behavior has been discovered, sees the readied pile from Skyland and jumps down to earth. Upon landing, his shell scattered in a million pieces. Ngwele gathered up every single piece and worked all through the rainy season patching Mbeku’s shell. The new patchwork shield looks just like the shell we know turtles to carry today. It’s not nearly beautiful enough for the ungrateful reptile.

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Despite not wanting to be seen in his hideous shell, the tortoise went out for a walk. When he heard birds nearby, he “drew himself into his checkered shell and lay as still as a stone.” The birds, unaware that their old nemesis is nearby, chattered and laughed about having finally outsmarted Mbeku. They laughed so hard that they didn’t even notice the large rock that they were resting on was chuckling too.

 

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