2018 January’s Big Picture
written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan
Ah, restricted vocabulary books. To people outside of children’s literature, seemingly the easiest thing to do; to people in the know, the hardest genre to pull off. Talents such as Dr. Seuss or Mo Willems are deservedly famous, but there are also some brilliant practitioners of the art who haven’t received quite that level of celebrity. One of those is author/illustrator Mary Sullivan.
Sullivan’s work first came to our attention in Ball (BCCB 5/13), a lively dog story whose sole text is the repeated word “ball”; in her subsequent dog story Frankie (BCCB 5/17), she expanded to a tale told in under ten different words. Now she’s loosened the boundaries further in Nobody’s Duck, which contains under fifty individual words, a petite number that only seems large by comparison with the rigor of her prior limits. Yet Sullivan’s stories are never cramped by their limitations—in fact, they unspool generously and luxuriously, with the repetition of their few words naturally occurring. This puts them in that rare category of books that work effortlessly as beginning readers or as picture books, and it makes them particularly happy choices for read-along lapsits.
In this case, Sullivan’s subject is that perennial favorite of picture books, the odd critter couple. When an alligator spots a duck settling in on his lawn, he reasonably asks his unexpected visitor, “Whose duck are you?” The duck unhelp- fully answers that he’s “nobody’s duck,” but the determined ’gator (“Well, you must be somebody’s duck”) hauls the bird around town—to the library, to the movies, to the go-kart track—asking various townsanimals “Is this your duck?” After a lively day of shared activities initiated by the duck at the various venues, the duck announces to a gratified alligator that “I am your duck,” and the two cement their friendship over pancakes.
Sullivan’s all-dialogue, all speech-balloon text is maximally cunning in its ability to fold word and phrase repetition into the plot without ever straining the vocabulary. The characterization is clear—the alligator, in his natty necktie, is Mr. Straitlaced Straightman, while Duck is all childish id, gamboling around the alligator with ebullient exclamations of “Quack!” (expanding with multiple a’s as Duck gets increasingly overexcited) and enthusiastic exclamations-cum-sound ef- fects at various locations. Alligator’s repeated query of “Is this your duck?” has an echo of Are You My Mother?, but he delivers it with magnificent comedic variation, sometimes slyly hopeful, sometimes frustrated, sometimes just desperate, building the suspense and giving fine opportunity to readers aloud looking for dramatic opportunities. Viewers will also want to take their time to appreciate the art, in digital line and watercolor style; Duck is always up to some comic theater business, and he collects souvenirs from every place he and Alligator go, so the poor reptile is pulling the duck along in a wagon full of library books, movie poster, and checkered flag. While the scene of the two friends at the monster flick (Duck levitating with joy, Alligator cringing with horror, both behind 3D glasses) is the comic zenith, there are plenty of comradely friendship touches as well.
Duck and Alligator will hopefully return to take their own place in the opposite-friends pantheon, and in the meantime audiences can revel in their first adventure and appreciate the hilarious photo-booth picture strip on the back cover.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
2018 January’s Stars
ALBERT, MELISSA The Hazel Wood; illus. by Jim Tierney Flatiron, 2018 [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-250-14790-5 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-250-14791-2 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 8-12
CURTIS, CHRISTOPHER PAUL The Journey of Little Charlie. Scholastic, 2018 [256p]
ISBN 978-0-545-15666-0 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 6-9
ELY, LYNDSAY Gunslinger Girl. Patterson/Little, 2018 [368p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-316-55510-4 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-316-55530-2 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9-12
GREEN, JOHN Turtles All the Way Down Dutton, 2017 304p
Library ed. ISBN 978-0-525-55538-4 $19.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-525-55536-0 $19.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-525-55535-3 $10.99
R* Gr. 9-12
GREENWALD, TOMMY Hooked; illus. by David McPhail. Roaring Brook, 2018 [32p]
ISBN 978-1-59643-996-2 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R* 5-8 yrs
HARTFIELD, CLAIRE A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018 [208p] illus. with photographs
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-544-78513-7 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-328-69904-6 $18.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 7-12
SOLOMON, RACHEL LYNN You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone. Simon Pulse, 2018 [384p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-9773-2 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-9775-6 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 10-12
VIGNOCCI, CHIARA Shake the Tree!; by Chiara Vignocchi, Paolo Chiarinotti and Silvia Borando; illus. by Silvia Borando; tr. from the Italian. Minibombo/Candlewick, 2018 [48p]
ISBN 978-0-7636-9488-3 $14.00
Reviewed from galleys R* 2-4 yrs