Maeve Visser Knoth: It's a Jungle Out There: Picture Books About the Trip To and From School

Guest Book - Please let me know who you are or ask a question (Click here)!

Friday, September 22, 2006

It's a Jungle Out There: Picture Books About the Trip To and From School

There are plenty of good lists of books that are set in schools. This is such a fertile topic. I could happily list books about starting a new school, negotiating with friends at school, dealing with teachers and the like, but I was recently inspired to pair up books about the trip to and from school.

Why are those students always late? What happened to them on the way? How about the trip home? Did the kids just walk quickly from school to home, or did something happen along the way?

John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late by John Burningham is a very funny, sly look at tardiness. John Patrick Norman McHennessy is late day after day because he meets a lion, is stopped by an alligator and is almost washed off a bridge by a tidal wave. His fierce, old-fashioned schoolmaster refuses to accept the boy's excuses insisting "there are no (lions/tidal waves/etc...) around here..." and punishes him each day with increasingly onerous tasks. The boy gets the last word when he finds his teacher swinging in the classroom rafters in the arms of a gorilla. In spite of the teacher's demands that John Patrick Norman McHennessy rescue him, the child refuses...using the teacher's own excuse: "But sir, there are no hairy gorillas around here." Burningham's story is subversive and wicked. The adult is the buffoon and the child is the truth-teller. What a breath of fresh air to children who are regularly told that they are imagining things!

The Boy Who Was Followed Home by Margaret Mahy covers the other end of the trip. A boy is "surprised and pleased" to find that he is followed home by a hippopotamus. Each subsequent day he is followed home by more and more hippos until there are 42 hippos lounging on his lawn. His sedate, formal parents solve the problem by hiring a witch to make the child unattractive to hippos. The solution works, but Mahy throws the reader a life-saving ending: the boy is no longer followed by hippos, but discovers that he is newly attractive to giraffes. Steven Kellogg's illustrations are perfect for the story. The child lives in a mansion and his father dresses in a smoking jacket. The juxtaposition of hippos on the lawn of just such a house is wonderfully funny.

These two titles make for a great storytime, but if you have more time you can add Kevin Henkes' wonderful story Sheila Rae the Brave and Mark Teague's The Secret Shortcut. You might send your listeners off to ask the school secretary about the very best excuse he or she has ever heard from a child arriving late to school.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home