Monday marked the start of Spring, not that you would have known, with the horrendous wind and rain we had. However, it was good timing to look at the two new books published by the Bodleian Library, whose subject matter was very fitting for the tempestuous and temperamental British weather.
The March Wind, by Inez Rice and Vladimir Bobri, takes a creative look at what happens when ‘The little boy’ (we never know his name) discovers an abandoned hat in a puddle in the gutter. The boy has been exploring for some time before he comes across the hat and he wonders why it stays still when everything else he’s tried to pick up has been snatched away by the March wind. The boy succeeds in putting the hat on his head but is amazed at how heavy it is, probably because it is weighed down by rainwater.
With the new hat on his head, The Little Boy is free to imagine all sorts of things he could be: soldier, cowboy, bandit, judge and a song-and-dance man. But while he is lost in his imaginary world, a stern, loud voice asks him: “Where did you get that hat?”
The Little Boy realises that the hat he has been playing with belongs to the March Wind, who definitely wants it back now. Without the hat for bravery (he no longer can imagine himself as a soldier or a cowboy, etc) his knees knock in terror, until the Wind thanks him for picking it up. He can relax and enjoy the adventure he has experienced, but wonders if anyone will ever believe what really happened that wet and windy March day.
This is a charming book about the power of imagination and the freedom that it gives young children in creating wonderful worlds of their own with only a simple prop for help. When I asked the children in the library what they could use a hat for, the answers were proof of their creativity – a bath for a baby, a bucket for water, a pair of underpants (if you cut holes in the right places), or a toy sailboat. Their attention was held by Bobri’s lively pictures, full of contrasting colours and shades and shadows – they particularly picked out the expressions of the March Wind when it came to claim its hat back. When I asked them if they believed the March Wind was real, most of them shook their head – it was obviously a leap too far – but they liked the idea of what it did in the story. As we looked out at the trees waving in the wind, and the rain hammering down on the window, we couldn’t think of a better day on which to read this book, and the next in the Bodleian’s releases.
The Rain Puddle, by Adelaide Holl and Roger Duvoisin
It all starts with a plump hen picking and pecking in the meadow grass until she comes across a rain puddle in the yard. When she peers into it, she sees another plump little hen looking back at her and panics: “A plump little hen has fallen into the water!” The hen rushes off and asks her friend the turkey to take a look. But what should the turkey see?
Yes, you’ve guessed correctly: another turkey, not a chicken. The turkey goes off in distress and tells a fat pig munching apples about the plight of the gobbly bird… and so it continues until more or less all of the farm is looking into the rain puddle and seeing another farm of animals apparently trapped inside the water.
They run around in alarm and, in the resulting melee, the sun comes out, dries up the puddle, and the animals think that their counterparts have managed to escape. The only animal who has not been fooled is the owl (of course) who chuckles at the scene in front of him.
The children I read this to knew from the start that the animals were seeing their own reflection but this didn’t take away from the comedy of the piece. They enjoyed making the appropriate animal noises to go with each creature (just as well as, with a cold and only half a voice, I wasn’t up to it) and explained to me that owls are always wise. When I asked them why, one child suggested that it was because of their big eyes that see everything. The story’s bright, cheerful pictures kept the children entertained and added even more humour to the story (particularly the massive rain puddle and the blueish-grey sheep).
The book is a great way to talk about animals with very young children, and to engage them with the story by asking them to make the noises. On a very basic level you can also talk about science subjects such as reflections and evaporation. My audience knew all about these topics (clever lot) and decided to teach me about them.
Both books are perfect for this time of year, although we’re nearly through March, so you had better get a copy quick!