Sticky Burr , illustrated and written by John Lechner is one of the most exciting books to come across my path in a while! Aside from being a charmingly illustrated story that packs adventure, humor and a little nature lesson (in the form of the main character's journal) into the book's colorful pages, there is a map, a copy of the Burrwood Gazette (Summer issue) and sheet music for a delightful little song that my four year old son, after he asked me not to sing it while pounding away on the piano, sang to himself for the rest of the day. There is also the great Sticky Burr interactive website with an on going comic strip featuring Sticky and pals as well as a link to John Lechner's other day job at FableVision. As Art Director for the children's media company founded by the amazing illustrator and author Peter H Reynolds, Lechner, who was a puppeteer for many years, directs films and designs children's software and educational websites. The website for FableVision itself kept my son and me pretty busy for a while reading books, watching short animated movies and playing games. We also had the chance to read (although without the great color illustrations) Lechner's next picture book, due out from Candlewick Press this fall, The Clever Stick which reminds me a bit of a William Steig book in it's philosophical bent.
Sticky Burr should appeal to picture book lovers as young as two or three, depending on attention span. Like Susan Schade and Jon Buller's excellent Fog Mound Trilogy and Marissa Moss' engrossing Max Disaster series, both of which are written at a higher reading level in terms of plot complexity and vocabulary, Sticky Burr is part graphic novel and moves at a fast pace. The other part of Sticky Burr is the journal of Sticky Burr ("He's small! He's prickly! HE'S A HERO!" is Sticky's tagline) which includes entries like, "Insects I have Known," "All About Burrs," and "Sticky Situations" which are informative and entertaining. Although he has the heart and soul of an artist and is a lover, not a fighter, Sticky's appearance has serious comedic appeal for little kids. With his big round eyes, continually shocked expression and stubby little teeth, Sticky is just plain funny looking. His friend, Mossy with her eyelashes and hair bow is cute. Scurvy's uni-brow and fang-like tooth add to his menacing demeanor while Draffle, Sticky's dragonfly friend looks like a great pal .
The first adventure in Burrwood forest sets the scene for Sticky and company. We learn that Sticky likes to paint, write poetry and play his ukulele (which you can listen to a sample of at Sticky Burr the website. There is also an excellent animated short of Sticky as well. Mossy is a bit of a thrill seeker, but she also sees the importance in Sticky's pursuits and Scurvy is a trouble making meanie out to get Sticky. While admiring a view of the forest from the top of a tree, Sticky gets stuck on a squirrel's tail, then a bird's, and, when he finally shakes himself free, he falls through the sky to land on Draffle's back. Draffle goes zooming off through the forest, upsetting a wasp's nest and starting a great chase that ends in the mysterious Maze Tree. Once inside and lost, Sticky and Draffle manage to make their way home, save Oralee the Princess lightening bug as well as Sticky's village, which has been overrun by wild dogs. Like I said, a lot happens in this seemingly little book.
I can't wait to see what's in store for us in the next installment from Burrwood Forest due out this fall, Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril.