A little plant sprouted on one beautiful morning. The little plant was hungry! The sun couldn’t satisfy how hungry it was, because it was a carnivorous plant. It ate a caterpillar passing by. It ate a butterfly. The plant got bigger and hungrier. It ate a spider, a gecko, and a rabbit. It grew bigger and hungrier with each one. Then it ate a gymnast, an acrobat bear, and a parachuting cow. It even ate an entire airplane of parachuting cows. But it only got hungrier as it grew. It ate a flying mammoth, a bunch of witches, a UFO and a dragon. Finally, it ate an angel choir. Now it was finally satisfied, and stopped to rest. But the story doesn’t quite end there!
With a repeating structure and ever-increasing surreal silliness, this picture book is great fun. Readers will notice the nod to Eric Carle and his Very Hungry Caterpillar in the first part of the book, something that is marvelous to see incorporated so nicely. The carnivorous and voracious plant eats so many marvelous things, small and then so huge! The absurdity of it all is delightful as is the simplicity of the story and the twist at the end.
The illustrations are very simple as well, accompanied by hand-painted text that adds to the zany nature of the book. The plant stays an open, yawning mouth of green with red teeth-like cilia until it is finally satiated towards the end of the book. When it closes, the maw of hunger becomes almost docile, just in time for the ending.
Funny and immensely satisfying. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (9780823446247)
Riding in their old car along a rural Ohio road, a young girl’s parents come to a stop when her mother spots something growing in the ditch. It’s watercress, so the entire family gets out and starts to harvest it into a paper bag. The girl finds it embarrassing to be in the ditch gathering free food, while her parents are remembering their time in China. The water in the ditch is cold and muddy, the watercress has snails among its roots. The girl finds herself partially hoping that the bottom of the paper bag falls through and this can just be over. That night, the family has the watercress for dinner, but the girl refuses to even try it. She wants food from the grocery store, not free food from a ditch that reminds her of furniture taken from the side of the road and hand-me-down clothes. Then her mother shares a story from China about her younger brother who died from not having enough to eat. The girl is inspired by her family’s history and ashamed of how she has been acting, so she tastes the watercress for the first time, a taste that builds new memories.
The writing in this picture book is exceptional. With delicate poetic words, Wang creates layers in her story. She weaves both the experience of shame for the young girl and the melancholy memories of China for her parents together into a story of generations in a Chinese-American family. From the previously unshared stories of her parents time in China to learning not to be ashamed of the way they live, this book will resonate for so many children.
Caldecott Honor winner, Chin pulls together images of China and Ohio in this book. By putting tall cornstalks against tall bamboo, the images are gateways to one another. The use of yellow to light the pages, works both in sunshine in Ohio and the sepia of memory in China. It is all so beautifully done, so well designed.
One of the best picture books of the year, this book reaches across generations and finds hope. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781452149875)
Jim wakes up one morning not feeling quite himself, after all he doesn’t usually have a tail to swish. His mother calls that she’s made pancakes for breakfast, but Jim isn’t in the mood for pancakes. He’s feeling beastly, so he heads downstairs for something delicious to eat, his mother! Jim is still hungry after that and heads out into the small town, munching on person after person. It’s not until he meets a hungry bear in the woods and Jim himself may be eaten that he manages to stop. On the way back, he spits out each of the people he ate. But he may not quite be done devouring things after all.
Everyone has some beasty part of their nature. This picture book captures that with a great sense of humor. It has connections to classic stories of gorging, but doesn’t end in quite the expected way, which is delightful. The creators mention Maurice Sendak in their dedication, and one immediately can connect this story with his. There is a great moment towards the end of the book where Jim returns to being human, but not entirely. It’s a reminder that even if we appear human, that beast still lingers and is hungry.
The art by Groenink has a distinct Sendak feel in its lines and color palette. The woods takes on a Wild Things vibe in its drama. The devouring is done in a very fairy tale style with no gore, just gulping, which takes the scariness away and also ties this nicely to classic stories like Little Red Riding Hood.
A book that is sure to appeal to your little beast. Appropriate for ages 3-5.