March 3, 2011
I find that picture books generally have you at hello or they don't. For the most part, you can tell at a glance when you have a standout on your hands, whether it's the transcendent art or the clever concept. Since authors have to get that appeal across to young kids' barely-there attention spans, it's usually right out front, impossible to miss.
But there are exceptions, the books whose brilliance parents may not fully realize until they see them in action with their children. Such a book is Ribbit Rabbit, which at first glance looks like nothing more than a modestly charming addition to the "sharing is good" subgenre. It's about a frog and a rabbit (naturally), two best friends who do everything together. Understandably, now and then they have some disagreements over sharing toys and such, but in the end they value the friendship too much not to make up and solve the problems. And that's it, really: a sweet little tale, accompanied by Mike Lowery's ebullient, childlike-in-a-good-way illustrations.
But it wasn't until I read the book with our two-year-old that I saw what author Candace Ryan is really up to. She punctuates each sentence of her simple story with a linguistic twist on the title: "Dip it, dab it" when the friends are playing together in a pool, "nip it, nab it" when they start their fight over a treasured toy robot, and so on. And while that may seem merely cute to an adult, turns out it's right in the wheelhouse of kids in the process of picking up language. The rhyming wordplay of Ribbit Rabbit delights Griffin as no other picture book of this kind has; he took to it immediately and intensely, and it continues to make him laugh many multiple reads later. In fact, it's among the first books he's ever sought out to read by himself—and what higher praise is there than that?
[Image courtesy of Walker Books]