The Two of Us

My Best Friend – written and illustrated by Miguel Tanco
Tundra Books, 2022

The narrator of this book is anyone who has ever appreciated the special companionship of someone who understands her.  Whether sharing a mutual dislike for taking a bath, or a shared affinity for ice cream, she knows that togetherness if part of those experiences. Friendship includes differences as well as similarities; one friend might walk on two legs and the other on four.  As always, Miguel Tanco’s inimitable gifts bring these examples to life with sweetness and humor, embedded in the traditions of classic children’s book illustration.

When you open a Miguel Tanco book, you enter a world of childhood that is gentle, but not completely idealized.  The children in this book, like their animal companions, are individuals. They grab snacks from the cookie jar, maybe without permission. They sit in the doctor’s waiting room nursing injuries, and they look forward to tasting a parent’s delicious cooking. (Some activities are species specific.  Only the children play with Legos.) The characters have wild hair, playful smiles, wear glasses, and use wheelchairs.  Their unaffected good nature could place them in the mid twentieth century, although the diversity of their backgrounds locates them in the present. 

Each sentence of the text is simple and straightforward, defining friendship as children experience it: “We never feel lonely when we are together,” “We give each enough strength.” Sometimes there is a simile: “My best friend is soft, warm and comfy as a ball of cotton.” The book’s theme calls for some irony, of the softest kind, such as remarking on a friend’s “powerful sense of smell,” or “great conversations.” Tanco is able to accomplish in few words what other authors might elaborate with examples.  He is always in conversation with children, exactly at their own level.  My Best Friend celebrates the joys of childhood; even unpleasant demands on merely bumps on the road. That bath which a child or dog hopes to avoid appears pretty inviting in an inflatable pool, supervised by a kind adult determined to make it fun. 

A walk in the pouring rain is delightful, set against the cobblestone streets and elegant buildings of a city that might be European, but not necessarily so.  Anyone who is acquainted with Tanco’s distinguished body of work can see the homage to Ludwig Bemelmans’s old house in Paris in this picture. While there are no straight lines of twelve little girls, the one girl in her bright yellow rain slicker, accompanied by a canine friend, might be Madeline’s modern-day descendant. 

There are many books for children about friendship, and some of them even welcome pets into the circle.  In My Best Friend, Miguel Tanco once again writes and draws for children, about children, and from deep in his own memories of what it was like to be a child.

How We Got Here

What the Dinosaurs Saw: Life on Earth Before Humans – written and illustrated by Fatti Burke
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022

The great children’s author and illustrator, Virginia Lee Burton, wrote a range of books besides Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shove. One, originally published in 1962, is Life Story, an account of the universe’s origins.  Fatti Burke’s What the Dinosaurs Saw is not indebted artistically to Burton’s book, but it reminds me of it in the best possible way.  This new account of evolution is incredibly comprehensive, clearly written, and artistically distinguished. Since we now read daily about school censorship battles which echo the Scopes Trial, it is more relevant than ever. 

Beginning with the Big Bang and tracing the earliest life forms, dinosaurs, mammals, continental drift, and human evolution, the book presents a clear vision of how each young reader came to inherit her life on earth.

One of the most impressive aspects of this guide is how the author and illustrator presents and develops an overarching and consistent theme, without either intimidating or patronizing children. Beginning with a brief introduction and a friendly invitation to learn more, she starts with empty space and then depicts the Big Bang as a colorful exploding ball. The bottom of every page provides a continual timeline, automatically placing each stage and episode in context.  There is plenty of attention given to everyone’s favorite dinosaurs, with detailed descriptions of each age and species, but also a family tree carefully linking each species, genus, and clade (a species plus its descendants).  You may have read other dinosaur books with your children and students, but this one fills in many gaps. 

But Burke does not skip from the Big Bang to Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Where would dinosaurs be without electrons, neutrons, and protons, or the varied invertebrates of the Cambrian Explosion?  Continuity and change are not abstract concepts in Burke’s tour through birds and mammals Different earth tones form the background of each page, and a limited color palette with selected use of contrast evokes traditional museum exhibits. At the same time, simple bold lines and highlighted details combine to make every component of the story memorable.  There is humor, and even a touch of anthropomorphism, without compromising scientific integrity. When the crocodile proclaims, “I’m a survivor,” he is just corroborating the lesson that, while many species suffered extinction, some adapted and survived.

Children may have a sketchy notion of why so many species disappeared, perhaps due to climate change or an asteroid hitting the earth.  Burke begins with that minimal knowledge as a starting point but, as she does throughout the book, offers more facts and metaphors to make it concrete.  An asteroid that is “bigger than 100 football fields” is easy to visualize, and complements the straightforward statement of consequences to life on earth: “When the vegetation perished, herbivores starved to death, and this meant that carnivores had nothing to eat, either, just like what happened in the Great Dying, 186 million years before.”  Because she understands the way children conceptualize information, Burke is able to accompany them through every step of their journey.

Virginia Lee Burton’s Life Story uses the framework of a theatrical production with several acts to tell earth’s story.  What the Dinosaurs Saw is as sophisticated artistically in following evolution, combining scientific accuracy with abundant imagination. After all, those two approaches are necessary for children, and adults, seeking to grasp the incredible story of how the universe as we know it came to be.  The Scopes Trial took place in 1925, but it still requires knowledge, empathy, and also courage, to inform readers about the world.

Listening, Hearing, Speaking

Midnight & Moon – written by Kelly Cooper, illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Tundra Books, 2022

Hearing is not the same as listening, and vocal language is not the only way of speaking.  In Midnight & Moon, a girl who cannot communicate in the same way as those around her is very much able to understand others and, at least sometimes, to make her thoughts known. This sensitive picture book is not only an exploration of disability, nor only an expression of respect for animals, although it includes those themes. Instead, it imagines the links among people and between humans and animals as a continuum of words, sounds, gestures, and intuition about one another.

Clara is unable to speak, although the exact nature of her disability is not specified. This choice makes her character more universal, less likely to be interpreted primarily as advocacy for a particular challenge.  Both the text and the pictures are realistic, but also laden with symbolism.  There is no contradiction in seeing Clara as a real child, but also an example of the strengths which difference may confer.  Clara “hears sounds that other children ignore,” so her intense attentiveness makes it no surprise that she emphasizes with Moon, the blind foal raised, along with other horses, on her farm.

The bond between Clara and her mother is distilled in one concise picture, where her mother asks her to name the new foals. . Clara looks up at her mother, whose face is full of love as she allows her daughter to choose words.  Clara “moves her pencil up and down and all around.” For someone confronting difficulty with language, each word is freighted with tremendous significance. Midnight is Moon’s sighted companion, helping to guide him when the other horses fail to understand his puzzling movements. 

Similarly, Jack is a child at Clara’s school who relates to her without condescension.  Kelly Cooper is not equating animals with humans by noting that both species include individuals who are able to transcend norms. The ironies of “show and tell” in Clara’s school carry the same message. Other students wave their hands in excitement to volunteer. The assortment of objects that have meaning to them are shown in a circle; it will be easy for everyone but Clara to talk about their kazoos, coins, jacks and stuffed animals.  Clara silence is a marked contrast.

Daniel Miyares’ images sometimes evoke classical children’s books; the scene where Clara reaches up to feed Moon echoes Hans Christian Andersen and Frances Hodgson Burnett in its romantic view of childhood. At the same time, the pathos of those authors is replaced by admiration for Clara’s strength and her mother’s compassion. 

The visual poetry of white, gray, and black horses caught in a snowstorm is stunning. The ensuing pages trace how chaos resolves in calm through an almost mystical process which Cooper leaves somewhat ambiguous.  Midnight and Moon depicts a truth which children know, that friendship cannot always be reduced to words.

After the War

Ruby in the Ruins -written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
Candlewick Press, 2018

Shirley Hughes (1927-2022), was one of the greatest British children’s book authors and illustrators, although, sadly, her work is much less familiar to American readers.  Hughes wrote illustrated picture books with simply rhyming text, family stories about Alfie and Annie Rose, novels for middle-grade readers, and even a version of Cinderella set in the 1920s.  Today I would like to commemorate her incredible career with a focus on one book about a girl who, having survived the Blitz in London, must cope with recovering the family life she had missed while her father served in the military. It is sadly relevant today, but is also a universal portrait, through the quiet portrayal of one individual, of childhood resilience.

Hughes’s pictures of people are unmistakable. Using gouache and watercolor, they are full of motion, shading, and light.  Mothers and fathers are short, tall, heavyset, thin, but never idealized.  Children observe the world of grownups, but also inhabit their own sphere.  Opening the book, readers find the endpapers printed with signs from the World War II era, reminding citizens to save food and fuel, follow air raid instructions, and “Make Last Year’s Clothes Last Years.”  This is Ruby’s world, the postwar city of London trying to rebuild.  Like many children, she had been sent away to a safer environment, but homesickness drove her back to wait out the war with her mother.  Hughes captures both the terror of the bombing and the close bond between parent and child. 

Then, in 1945, the men come home.  There is no narrative voice explaining the contradiction between joy and disruption, as husbands and fathers are expected to integrate themselves into a changed world. Instead, we have a child’s perspective. Ruby’s father is a stranger. She has to leave her mother’s bed and move into an attic bedroom with fallen plaster and mice. Her father’s large, masculine, figure now seems out of proportion to his former home: “Ruby had forgotten how very big he was and what a lot of space he took up, sitting in their little kitchen.” There is a consistent Hughes tone throughout most of her work: understated, honest, empathetic, with minimal drama.

When Ruby joins the neighborhood boys in exploring the city’s bomb sites, Hughes conveys how children processed the vast devastation by creating an adventure: “These forbidden places were full of rubble and fallen beams and flights of stairs leading to nowhere.”  When she takes risks and gets hurt, the boys go for help and her father arrives.  The analogy to a soldier’s wounds is only implicit. Ruby’s bloodied knee is hardly the equivalent of the horrors which her father had witnessed.  Still, the reality of war is in the background.  Her father knows exactly how to regain his role as someone who supported and protected the family. Of course, he had done that all through the war, but Ruby needs evidence that he will also do it at home.  Instead of anger, he expresses pride, while still providing the rules she needs: “You’re an adventurous one…But I should give those bomb sites a miss and play in the park from now on if I were you!”  Too young to understand why children should ever have to play in bomb sites, Ruby at least has a father who loves her and can heal part of her fractured past.

Saving the World

Your Planet Needs You! A Kids’ Guide to Reducing Waste and Recycling – written and illustrated by Philip Bunting
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022

There are a few requirements for a good children’s informational book; Your Planet Needs You! exceeds them.  Books intended as an introduction to a topic should be accessible and appealing, without sacrificing artistic quality or pandering to the lowest common denominator.  (Humor is great, but deliberating aiming for the crudest and silliest level, while basically harmless, can actually undermine the book’s message.) At best, the book should be memorable, setting it apart from numerous other books on the same topic.  Philip Bunting has found the right tone, the right amount of carefully selected information, and a clear overall message for readers.

Bunting explains that “The more stuff we make, the more waste we produce…As a result, we’re making heaps more garbage than ever before (in every sense).”  That’s the big picture, but he also offers artful comparisons to make it concrete: “Every year, each of us creates more than a ton of waste. That’s about the weight of an adolescent hippo!”  You will probably never forget that image of all the accumulated leftovers in your life equaling a hippo on the verge of adulthood. Young readers will also enjoy the thought, as well as the accompanying picture of a girl standing in front of the large animal and defending it from possible misunderstanding: “Hey, leave the hippos out of this.” Bunting respects the reader’s intelligence.

One particularly appropriate example of how an object might or might not end up in a landfill uses the lifespan of a sketchbook. A young artist receives it as a gift, probably without thinking about the oil used as fuel to ship thousands of other sketchbooks to consumers.  He produces a drawing of a dinosaur that doesn’t meet his standards and rips it out of the book.  The graphics show the different potential fates of this piece of paper, as well as its original source in a tree.  The drawings are simple and accurate, but the tree is personified with eyes. 

Another two-page spread focuses on waste at home, from all the “edible stuff” enjoyed in the developed world to the deluge of plastic packaging tossed out every day. Then there are all the items that simply wear out, including not only batteries, but the more poetic examples of a guitar and toy robot. The range of examples holds the reader’s attention.  Plastic milk bottles are part of the problem, but so is that toy he once craved but now ignores.

Bunting turns the ubiquitous warnings about landfill into another clear visual image of choices and possibilities. But a key component of Your Planet Needs You takes a further step, encouraging kids to take other steps beyond recycling paper and plastic.  Purchasing better quality articles (how sturdy was that toy robot to begin with?), thinking carefully before buying or using resources, even playing outdoors, reading books, telling jokes, are all practical and empowering. The frustrated artist who quickly tossed his imperfect picture might also listen to the author’s advice about repairing broken things: “Often something that has been repaired will be more special to you – the repair will become a part of its story.” That insight summarizes the intelligence and patience behind this book, whose bright images and unpretentious text will convince kids that they can make a difference.

Painters and Puffins

The Puffin Keeper – written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Benji Davies
Tundra Books, 2022

This is an unusual book. It’s the story of a young boy growing to manhood, an environmental tale, a nostalgic look back at the days of lighthouses, a family story, and a lesson in sacrifice.  Michael Morpurgo, in his afterword, explains how Penguin, and then Puffin books for children, are the great success story of his father-in-law, Allen Lane. Children will enjoy the Puffin Keeper even without that context; it clarifies the book’s tone for adults.  Morpurgo looks back at the World War II era, recalling the resilience of the British people, and also celebrates the power of literacy for both children and adults.  The young hero is an aspiring artist, and Benji Davies’ pictures use color and line to with richness and delicacy. The Puffin Keeper is a book about the past, but also about the human connections that tie the past to the future.

There is also quite a lot of adventure, which Morpurgo describes with understated simplicity.  When Allen Williams, his mother, and their fellow passengers are stranded by a shipwreck, the eccentric Benjamin Postlethwaite, Puffin Island’s lighthouse keeper, comes to their rescue.  Allen is struck not only by the old man’s generosity, but by the original works of art which he has created. Allen leaves the island with the special gift of a nautical painting by Benjamin; it will become a touchstone for him in the years to come. 

The book is not long, and each detail is carefully chosen.  Allen was born in New York City. His father has died and he and his mother, who is French, have returned to England, his father’s original home. As in a compelling nineteenth-century novels, Allen suffers from a rigid upbringing with his strict grandparents as guardians. His beautiful and loving mother supports her son’s love of art, and validates. Allen writes letters to Benjamin Postlethwaite, but receives none in return.  Later, he enrolls in boarding school, where a sympathetic art teacher becomes another of the adults who guides and supports him. Eventually, everyone in his web of relationships interacts in some way, sometimes in unpredictable ways. There is a touch of mystery as he attempts to find Benjamin, and the tragedy of war also intervenes. 

Meanwhile, the puffins, who had been disappearing from their island, need to be restored.  Morpurgo and Davies depict the delicate balance between freedom and safety, personal aspirations and collective sacrifice. At the end of the book, a deep satisfaction in the resolution of different problems is far from contrived.  After all the interruptions of fate, everyone has a place and a purpose, the fulfillment of creativity and of caring for others.  An old-fashioned story in the very best sense, The Puffin Keeper also has unquestionable value today.

Not Richard Scarry, But Pretty Busy

Busy Bunny Days: In the Town, On the Farm, & At the Port – written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Chronicle Books, 2014 (Originally published in Germany by Verlagshaus Jacoby & Stuart GmbH, 2011, 2012

There is popular genre of children’s book, known in German as Wimmelbuch, and popular in other parts of Europe as well.  These books, crowded with activity, may ask the reader to find a missing person or object: Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo series may be the best known in the English-speaking world.  But even without the search for Waldo’s striped sailor shirt, books in this category present a complete world, where everyone is involved in doing something specific and dozens of details identify each sphere of life’s tasks. As in Richard Scarry’s busy, busy, world (such as in What Do People Do All Day?), each character is both an individual and a representative of a role which kids like to learn about.  While Scarry’s anthropomorphic animals are funny, exaggerated, silly, and lovable, those of German illustrator Britta Teckentrup have a bit of a cosmopolitan air.

As in her other books (and as in Scarry’s), there are several different species, but a bunny family is at the center. Other animals are depicted through their relationships with Dr. and Mrs. Bunny, their two children Baxter and Bethany, and their grandma.  Readers are cautioned to look out for “that pesky Benny Badger,” who “is always up to no good,” although the no good he is up to doesn’t threaten the community’s overall stability.  There is no actual plot, but there are suggestions of one, as when Grandpa Bear is “keeping company” with Grandma Bunny when both families visit the Gardiners’ farm.  Some of the animals seem indeterminate; I’m not sure if the Gardiners are foxes. Everyone is stylishly dressed, regardless of their profession.  If you recall, the workers in Babar’s Celesteville have all the specific gear associated with their jobs, but here simple lines and well-tailored outfits belong to everyone. Grandma Bunny wears green in different shades, and a pink scarf. It’s impossible to tell if she is the maternal or paternal grandmother by the family features.

A trio of Andean llamas plays music, a mare named Margo seems to be pregnant, and a young cat named Logan has a bicycle with training wheels. In a nighttime scene, Dr. and Mrs. Bunny enjoy a quiet moment together with glasses of red wine after the children have gone to bed. Although this may be a romantic moment, one of the little bunny’s toy bus is parked on the table near the decanter.  Going back to Babar, the appeal of Teckentrup’s universe is partly due to its simplicity and sophistication. There is something for everyone here.

More for Anne Fans

Anne’s Tragical Tea Party – written by Kallie George, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Tundra Books, 2022

Once again, Kallie George and Abigail Halpin have proven that an original version of a classic, interpreted for younger readers, has a value of its own.  Their series of chapter book adaptations of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables stand on their own, not merely as simplified introductions to an inimitable work of literature. This fourth volume continues to present Anne, her friends, and family, as individuals, through language and pictures in dialogue with one another and with Montgomery’s novel.  This time, the core of the book involves the delicate incident of the tea party where Anne inadvertently allows her bosom friend, Diana, to get sickeningly drunk, after she offers her the wrong beverage.  The fact that the author chose not to avoid this particular event, which is perhaps more fraught in retrospect than when readers first encountered it, is a tribute to their respect for young readers.

Anne is thrilled when Marilla gives her permission to host a grownup-style tea party, in Anne’s mind the pinnacle of sophistication.  While it might seem that Anne’s excitement over having a friend over for snacks is no longer obvious to children, George and Halpin perform their feat, once again, of making the experience of children in the past seem completely natural to contemporary readers. After all, Anne has never before had a best friend. Before arriving at Green Gables, she had lived a life of emotional deprivation. Now her guardian, Marilla, has entrusted her with responsibilities and even begun to empathize with her quirky obsessions.  A few obstacles remain, namely that Diana’s mother “…was not sure that Anne was a suitable friend for her daughter.” Any insecure child, who is really any child at some point in her life, can relate to this skepticism by a judgmental adult.  The expression on Mrs. Barry’s face, between a frown and a sneer, is a bit scary, even though she is involved in the innocent activity of embroidery.

Anne’s joy at earning Marilla’s trust and moving towards adulthood are central to the book.  George does not literally imitate Montgomery’s narrative, nor does she betray it with awkwardly modern language.  “May I use the rosebud tea set?” Anne asked. That would be a no, but yes to the apparently low-alcohol raspberry cordial in the pantry. This is incredibly exciting: “The sweet red juice looked so beautiful. And it tasted divine.” The problem is, Anne mixes up two red beverages and winds up serving Diana several glasses of currant wine, with a predictable result.  Halpin’s picture of an ashamed child sheltered by a compassionate maternal figure, Marilla, shows how unprepared Anne suddenly feels for adulthood. “There are so man responsibilities when you are a grown-up.”  That turns out to be an understatement in this case.

Fortunately, Anne has a chance to redeem herself, and to prove that helping others in a crisis is far more important than choosing the wrong bottle, at least when both problems are addressed successfully, and when everyone involved benefits from some good luck.  Anne has previous experience caring for children, so when Diana’s sister falls deathly ill, Anne shows her true potential.  George spells out for readers that her heroine’s best qualities are not contradictory. With her big imagination and her penchant for flowery speech, Anne is still “the most practical and sensible of all.” 

Halpin’s final scene of Anne, Matthew, and Marilla, embracing against a shadowy background has an almost religious intensity. To children, it demonstrates how people who care for you will be there when things go wrong, and hopefully when they turn out right, as well.

New Life for Old Trains

Subway Story – written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

Children’s books that allude to a great tradition are always promising, although not all live up to expectations. This one does.  Julia Sarcone-Roach has told and illustrated the story of Jesse, a friendly subway car who loves New York City but winds up at the bottom of the ocean.  But her new life will be as fulfilling as Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel.  Just as the outdated machine in Virginia Lee Burton’s classic tale about technology and change, who found an important purpose heating the town hall, Jesse the subway train car will welcome others who need a comfortable and safe home. Like Virginia Lee Burton, Sarcone-Roach knows how to create an anthropomorphic character who is believable and reassuring.

Jesse has a specific origin story, beginning with a birth announcement in St. Louis, Missouri, announcing a weight of a healthy 75,1222 pounds.  As the extensive “Author’s Note” explains, she is based on an actual type of train car designed to teach visitors to the New York World’s Fair in 1964 about the city’s subway system.  Subway cars may not have as old a lineage as steam shovels in the world of children’s books, but their ability to connect and swiftly move city residents has made them quite popular. Jesse is proud of her job and loves her passengers, not only visitors to the fair, but daily straphangers going to work, school, and every other destination in the city. 

Like the people she carries, Jessie begins to get old: “By summer, Jessie’s fans were just not strong enough to keep her passengers cold.”  She now gets summers off, but this concession to her physical decline is more of a threat than a comfort.  Who needs an old train who can’t do her job anymore?  “She thought about the people she had carried. Did they notice that she was gone?” At this point in the narrative, adults will be as concerned as children about Jessie’s ultimate fate.  Her insecurities are understated, but real. 

Sarcone-Roach’s acrylic paint pictures are both detailed enough to be realistic, and impressionistic enough to create a fictional world.  Pastel and earth colors, and subtle shading, move the story along, chronicling the changes which Jesse witnesses.  As in another Virginia Lee Burton book, The Little House, Jesse tries to remain rooted in her environment, even as so much changes.  One two-page spread depicts Jesse moving forward in an upward arc over her tracks, the city skyline in the background.  “Over the years, Jessie saw the city change, and she had some changes of her own…” Eventually, she is approached by workers and filled with the excitement at the idea of imminent repairs.  Instead, Jesse faces a much more fundamental transition in her identity. As she is, inexplicably, loaded onto a barge, Jesse, a true New Yorker, worries, “Will I ever get to see my city again?”

Children will be relieved and excited to learn that Jesse becomes an artificial reef on the ocean’s floor, giving shelter to dolphins, turtles, and plants.  The delicate blue and green color washes of these final scenes give a fantastic element to the story, at the same time that they document a real environmental triumph.  Subway Story, its very title having echoes of a 1940s romance, concludes with a happy ending for a city train content with her new job and home.

Crocodile Looks in Fridge

Crocodile Hungry – written by Eija Sumner, illustrated by John Martz
Tundra Books, 2022

Crocodiles are not an unknown commodity in children’s books. Bernard Waber’s Lyle series is probably the most famous, but he is also a ghostly presence in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Friendly animals who inadvertently frighten people who mistake them for predators also appear in The Happy Lion, by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin, and in Helen Stephens’s How to Hide a Lion. In Crocodile Hungry, the misunderstood reptile just wants a snack, and becomes sad and frustrated when his plans to find tasty food go awry. Eija Sumner and John Martz have created a surprisingly endearing character, with a wry text and expressive pictures that appeal to both children and adults.

Sometimes analyzing humor can lessen its impact, but this book is so effective in both building tension and defusing it that it seems important to consider how.  Crocodiles are scary, even if you haven’t read Peter Pan. They have huge teeth, and none of the storybook charm of bears, dogs, or cats.  They aren’t mammals, so are much more distant from humans.  Yet this crocodile is just hungry, eventually hangry, and, like a young child, doesn’t seem fully aware of his feelings and their consequences.  His though process seems random, but is full of details which convey his reasoning: “Eggs? Bite shell, get toothache.”  The refrigerator is full of food, none of it satisfying. Why?

Sumner summarizes the chaotic scene at the market when Crocodile looks for a nosh there: “Everyone screaming. Market ruined.”  Fruits, vegetables, and overturned packages litter the ground.   A lone balloon drifts in the air.  Customers flee in terror. The supermarket and community garden become similar scenes of anticipated attack.  The puzzled crocodile rationalizes his loss: “Crocodile not like lettuce anyway.” Why would he?

Finally, he starts to feel sorry for himself, and begins to drown in carefully understated “nice-sized pond” of crocodile tears. Caregivers might want to explain the expression, but, even if they don’t, children will relate to the situation. When you don‘t get what you want, maybe you need to want something else. That something for crocodile seems to be a pink bird on spindly legs who looks like a marshmallow. Trust me, even adults will be worried at this point about those lovely flamingos.  But there are better ways to get dinner.  Sumner and Martz show compassion for their hungry antihero, and for every child who wants something elusive and tries to figure out how to respond.