Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth by Marie-Louise Gay

Roslyn woke up in the morning knowing just what she was going to do that day.  She was going to dig the biggest hole on earth in her backyard.  Over her breakfast of carrot flakes, she told her father about her plan and he thought it was a good one.  She just had to be back for lunch.  Roslyn careful chose the perfect spot for her hole.  But when she started digging there, a worm complained that she was digging up his front yard and should dig somewhere else.  She moved near the fence but then a grumpy mole stuck his head out and complained that she was digging up his bedroom.  She moved near the lilac bush and started digging again.  She dug until she found what she thought was a dinosaur bone!  But the dog that had buried it came and told her that she was digging up his stash of bones.  Roslyn gave up.  She lay in the bottom of the hole.  Just as she was despairing, her father arrived with carrot sandwiches to lift her spirits.

This book captures a child’s view of the world where the obstacle is not the big idea but the small hurdles on the way to fruition.  Gay has written a book about a child with plenty of ideas and energy who is supported by a loving adult.  Roslyn is told along the way by everyone except her father that the hole will never be that big, that she will never dig to the South Pole, that she should give up.  This is a lesson in perseverance that very nicely concludes before the goal is reached.

Gay’s illustrations are delightful.  Done in mixed media, they have a wonderful texture to them that is used to great effect to be the underground portion of the illustrations.  Complete with rough tears, the paper really captures the grit of the dirt.  Gay has also filled the dirt with small touches: worms, carrots, missing socks, leaves, and rocks.  It is a pleasure to pore over the illustrations to find the “treasures” underground.

A charming story that will inspire readers to follow their heart no matter what other say, this book is appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Elsie’s Bird: Prairie Perfection

Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Small

Elsie had lived in Boston all of her life.  She loved its curving streets, the horses hooves clopping on the roads, and she loved the birds that sing.  She even sang their songs back to them.  But after her mother died, her father decided to head west to Nebraska.  The two of them took a train out west, accompanied by Elsie’s new canary named Timmy Tune.  When they reached Nebraska with its wide open prairie and silence, Elsie was overwhelmed by the vastness around her.  She stayed in their sod house, only Timmy Tune bringing a smile to her face.  Then one day when her father was gone, she accidentally left Timmy Tune’s cage door open and he escaped outside.  Now Elsie had to decide whether to stay safe indoors or entre the overwhelming prairie to save her friend.

Yolen’s verse here is exceptional.  She captures Elsie’s feelings honestly, managing even in the format of a picture book to show Elsie’s perspective rather than tell it.  When Elsie discovers the beauty of the prairie for herself, the words descriptions of the noises she hears are crystalline and wondrous.  Yolen’s use of the lack of sound to impart the way that Elsie is overwhelmed is very well done.  Readers themselves will hear the sudden clamor of sounds as she realizes that the prairie is far from empty. 

Small’s watercolor illustrations are filled with movement, whether it is a moving train or blowing blades of grass.  He captures the wind, the vastness of the prairie and the mood in each illustration.  As Elsie enters the prairie, the images of the tall blades of grass that threaten her safe return are dark, tangled and mysterious.  Then when she realizes the beauty of the prairie, the sky opens wide and bright and the grass is bedecked in blooms.  His illustrations are truly married to the story, managing to capture in pictures what Yolen has written with sounds.

Highly recommended, this is a book that has great historical interest and a superb story line.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by: