Friday, November 07, 2008

Book Review: Gobble, Gobble Fun!

My friend and collaborator Julie Stiegemeyer has a new picture book out! Gobble, Gobble Crash! A Barnyard Counting Bash, illustrated by Valerie Gorbachev (Dutton, 2008) will delight 3 to 7 year olds from start to finish. And even though you might think it was a Thanksgiving tale, what with all those gobbles in the title and the turkeys on the cover, it's really an any-season bedtime/counting story, so go ahead and add it to your holiday or birthday shopping lists.

There are so many things to love about this book. First, there's the plot, which is a variation on one of my favorite themes: putting one over on a too-stern grownup. A quartet of rambunctious turkeys gobble and tumble and crash into the barnyard one evening just as the farm animals - and the cranky farmer - are settling down for the night. The turkeys rouse the animals, prompting the little ones to giggle and squeal and join in the fun. The barnyard mamas are as annoyed as the farmer - until they overhear his plan for taking care of those turkeys once and for all. The scheme the animals devise to protect the silly turkeys will have young listeners snickering in collusion.

Second, there's the language. The story is told in rhythmic rhyming couplets that are a pleasure to read aloud, with a fun "gobble, gobble, crash" refrain for little ones to repeat with gusto. It's a book that works well both one-on-one and with a large group. Julie uses strong verbs too, making this a good choice for teachers to use as an example in writing workshops in the early grades.

Finally, there are fun counting and searching elements, some of which are extra challenging and enjoyable in this book. In some of the illustrations, the animals are neatly lined up for beginning counters to note easily, but in others, the animals are scattered throughout a complex illustration, making for a more advanced task that stretches early math skills. A couple times Mr. Gorbachev makes the counter's job particularly complicated and interesting, thereby encouraging kids to devise new, more sophisticated counting strategies; this aspect adds to the appeal for slightly older audiences. For example, the reader can't simply count noses to confirm that Mama Mouse has seven babies; she's got them huddled so tightly in her arms that the reader has to search for seven tiny pairs of ears. Sharp-eyed little ones will also have fun figuring out what the farmer can't, namely what has become of those noisy turkeys.

The illustrations are lovely too, with the story beginning visually in the front matter even before the text starts. Gorbachev has a loose energetic feel to his watercolor and pen and ink pictures, and adds lots of interesting details to examine. The colors are muted, as befits a night-time tale, but with spots of bright yellows and reds to draw the reader's attention to the important parts of the action.

You can gobble, gobble up this book at amazon, barnes and noble (where you can read the excellent professional reviews the book has received), and powell's.

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