In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Performing board books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

We're home again, getting back into the routine, and while we had a wonderful and relaxing vacation, I can't help but be slightly jealous of the hammock, and the hours of uninterrupted reading it implies.  Ah, well.

I realized recently that although we have a photo prominently displaying the board book of Mr. Gumpy's Outing, by John Burningham, neither of us has yet written about it.  What a great little book.  It was a favorite of Eleanor's from early on, and Isabel has already started to get into it (though she's still in the slapping at/eating books phase).

Mr. Gumpy lives by a river, and has a boat, a low raft-like thing.  He goes out in his boat one day, and everyone wants to come with him: the children, the rabbit, the cat, the dog, the cow, the chickens, the goat.  As he says yes to each request, Mr. Gumpy admonishes the newcomer: "'Very well,' said Mr. Gumpy.  But you're not to chase the rabbit.'"  "Yes, but don't keep bleating."  Everything goes along swimmingly until all the animals on the boat begin to do what they aren't supposed to do:

The goat kicked
The calf trampled
The chickens flapped
The sheep bleated
The pig mucked about
The dog teased the cat
The cat chased the rabbit
The rabbit hopped
The children squabbled
The boat tipped...

Eleanor particularly loved this page, coming as it does after the suspense-building setup.  Mr. Gumpy is pleasant about the whole thing, and they all walk home across the fields and have tea together.

Our one elaboration on Burningham's simple text and appealing sketchy drawings is that we've always read the book with different voices for each of the animals, and added in the animal sounds they make: "'Moooo, Can you make room for me?' said the calf." Our kids like it, and it helps differentiate each animal's voice to start with a bleat or an oink or a meow.

It's funny how you start reading books a certain way when you read them aloud over and over again.  You choose inflections and accents and then so often repeat them as reading becomes partly a performance.  When we started reading aloud to Eleanor, Jeff and I were quite rigid about alternating pages, so we'd each read an equal amount of every book, or we'd choose certain characters to read, and we'd fall into patterns with books: I'd know which page I wanted to start on to get some of my favorite pages in the middle.  We're much more lax now, but if we're reading Mr. Gumpy together, one of us will take his voice (slow and soft), and the other will do all the animals.  There's a way our kids now expect certain books to be read, as if they are songs with our own particular music.

Love, Annie

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