Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman (9780451474988)
When a mouse asks Carl, an earthworm, why he digs in the dirt all day, Carl doesn’t have a good answer. So he sets off to find one. He asks all sorts of animals in the meadow “Why?” Some of them answer with their own reasons for why they do what they do. Rabbit does things to take care of her babies. Fox does things to hunt. Squirrel plants trees by hiding nuts in the ground in order to have homes in the future. But why does an earthworm dig in the dirt? Carl doesn’t get any good answers. He finally finds himself on a hard patch of dirt where a beetle complains that he can’t find any grubs to eat. Suddenly, Carl understands what he does and why and begins to turn the hard earth into soft dirt. As he works, the area transforms back into green grass, planted seeds, and plenty of wildlife.
Freedman takes one worm’s curiosity about why he does things and cleverly transforms it into a look at the interconnected roles of animals and worms on the habitat they live in. The story here is tightly written, following a structure of questioning neighbors and coming to a conclusion that is familiar in children’s literature.
The illustrations really show exactly the impact of an earthworm and move from lushness to a dry landscape back to the beauty of new growth and then lushness once more. As always, Freedman’s watercolors are filled with color, even transforming the brown dirt into a fertile and fascinating space on the page.
Another winner from a master book creator. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.
Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard (9781481491266)
The beloved author of many easy readers returns with the first book in a new series. Done in a larger picture book format, the book still has three short chapters inside. The first story focuses on the joy of having cake every Friday for our Motor Mouse and Telly. When they discover that their cake shop is closed one Friday, what will they do? Perhaps another sweet treat can save the day thanks to a friendly hedgehog. In the second story, Motor Mouse decided he’d rather look around than drive. He takes a cab but can’t quite figure out what he wants to see. In the end though, he moves from memory lane to a bowling alley to making a new friend. The last story takes Motor Mouse to the movies with his brother, Vincent. Vincent always orders one large popcorn and doesn’t quite manage to share it. So when he does the same thing, Motor Mouse insists on being the one to hold the bucket this time. But sharing can be really hard!
Told with Rylant’s beautiful writing that sets just the right curious tone on each of the short chapters, this is a fantastic picture book. With a look towards dealing with expectations, managing friendships, and learning to share and appreciate one another, the themes are universal for small children who are trying to navigate similar situations. The stories are gentle but also profound.
Howard, who has collaborated with Rylant on the Mr. Putter & Tabby series as well as the Gooseberry Park books, returns with his signature style. With clear black lines, the illustrations are bouncy and friendly even when situations get a little problematic. There is a constant optimism about Howard’s work that is particularly effective here.
A great start to a new series that is sure to be popular. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane.