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The diction's the thing

Kids' books you'll love to read aloud


Sometimes you read books to your children so you can look at the pictures, sometimes because the message is perfect, and sometimes because you sound so silly and childlike when you read them that you remember what it was like to think and talk like a kid.

A pair of offerings from Candlewick Press falls into the latter category, perfectly capturing the sounds and rhythms of childspeak.

First is My Penguin Osbert (written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel and illustrated by H.B. Lewis), a silly little tale about young Joe who asks Santa for a penguin, a real penguin, for Christmas, and then gets it. What a catastrophe, having to play outside in the freezing cold, eating creamed herring for breakfast instead of pancakes, and taking icy-cold baths at nighttime. Says Joe on Christmas morning, "Osbert really wanted to go outside and play. It was pretty cold, and kind of windy too. There was a foot or two of snow on the ground, and no sun. But I had asked for Osbert, and now I had him. So we went outside."

That refrain, "But I had asked for Osbert, and now I had him," plays throughout the book, even while Joe continues to look for a way out of his predicament, and the rhythm of the short phrases -- coupled with the unspoken adaptation of an adult's voice decrying, "You asked for that darned penguin, now you have him, so make the best of it" -- is captivating. While the illustrations are nothing spectacular, their icy-cool blueness nicely supports the chill of having a pet penguin in the house.

I Am Too Absolutely Small for School, written and illustrated by Lauren Child, features another amusing first-person narrator, Charlie, whose little sister Lola has the jitters about going to school for the first time. Here, the diction charm is less from a young child who is mimicking an adult, but more from an older child reporting on the malapropisms and foibles of a younger one. Here's a classic interchange:

"Then Lola says, 'I would like to read to an ogre and count up elephants and send notes to the North Pole. But I absolutely will NOT ever wear a schooliform. I do not like wearing the same as other people.'

I say, 'But Lola, you won't have to wear a school uniform. At our school you can wear whatever you like.'"


So Lola then shows up dressed as an alligator, and Charlie has to tell her that "alligator is for fancy. For school, stripes are nice."

In addition to a fun story that will be much appreciated by the preschool set, the illustrations are a delight. Childs has invoked a pastiche of styles, using drawings, watercolors, photographs, Japanese collage and a kind of invisible ink printing to make each illustration a visual treat. The words are arranged on the page with as much care as the other graphic elements and themselves become part of the funky illustrations.

Both My Penguin Osbert and I Am Too Absolutely Small for School make manifest the pleasure of reading aloud to your kids and obey the first dictum for children's books -- the parents must enjoy them or else.

-- Andrea Lucard


My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel (Candlewick Press: Cambridge, Mass.) $16.99/hardcover

Suitable for ages 3-8

book info

I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child (Candlewick Press: Cambridge, Mass.) $16.99/hardcover

Suitable for ages 3-8

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