Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid
Oliver sometimes isn’t as brave as he’d like to be, and that is especially true on the first day of school. So he headed to the swamp and picked up an alligator, “just in case things got rough.” When Oliver got to school a woman who was not his mother greeted him and asked his name. In his panic, Oliver couldn’t remember his name, but he could say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the lady. A similar thing happened when a little girl in the class asked Oliver what he loved. Oliver wanted to answer and even had a great reply, but he found that he could only say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the girl. As Oliver steadily had his alligator munch his classmates, the classroom got much quieter and lonelier. But what is a boy to do when everyone has been eaten?
Schmid tells this story with a wonderful matter-of-fact tone that leaves readers shocked at first but then delighting in this clever answer to the worries of the first day of school. I guarantee a wonderful stunned moment if you share this book aloud, and then a rush of nervous but genuine glee at it all.
The book is cleanly designed with very simple lines that allow the humor of the situation to really shine. The simplicity is beautiful and entirely modern thanks to Oliver’s oversized sweater and mop of hair.
Beautiful, clever and a joy to share aloud, this book is riotously funny and oh so true. A great addition to starting-school shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
John Jensen Feels Different by Henrik Hovland, illustrated by Torill Kove
John Jensen lives in Norway. He lives in an apartment, eats cereal for breakfast, brushes his teeth, and takes the bus to work. But he feels different than everyone else and knows that people are looking at him because he is different. He notices that no one else wears a bowtie, so he changes and wears a regular one. But he still feels different. John Jensen decides that the real problem is his tail, since no one else has a tail like his. So he ties it up and hides it, but all that results in is not being able to sit comfortably and losing his balance. In fact, he loses it so badly that he falls and has to go to the doctor. Thank goodness that Dr. Field turns out to be just what John Jensen needs, a friendly doctor who is also an elephant.
Told in a deadpan voice, this book is pure delight. John Jensen is obviously different, since he’s an alligator. But the book never gives that away except in the illustrations. Instead, it is told as if he is just another Norwegian on the bus. The tension leading to the realization builds and is only partly fixed by the appearance of the elephant towards the end. The book ends shortly thereafter with no sudden realization by John Jensen, just an acceptance that he truly is different. I loved the fact that there was no culminating event at the end, because it made the book really work as a vehicle to talk about all sorts of differences even if you are a human too.
Kove’s illustrations add to the deadpan humor of it all. There are marvelous touches like Camus’ The Stranger as bedtime reading, and the fact that absolutely no one on the bus is actually looking at John Jensen. The illustrations are a large part of what really create the strong Norwegian setting that permeates the book.
Translated from Norwegian, this is a striking picture book in so many ways. It will be one of those books that children shout at thanks to the deadpan nature and the lack of reveal, and I love sharing those books with kids. After all, we all feel different and even a bit green and scaly at times. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.