Amy Krause Rosenthal, author of The Wonder Book, is a wonder to me! She is a remarkably prolific, consistently thoughtful and entertaining author of picture books. As Bruce Handy said of her work in the New York Times Book Review last year, "Her books radiate fun the way tulips radiate spring: they are elegant and spirit lifting." I couldn't agree more. Even better, Rosenthal's work is regularly illustrated by spectacular artists, including three by Jane Dyer. Her books have made both of my Best Picture Books of... lists since I started compiling them, and Spoon, illustrated by Scott Magoon, is by far one of the sweetest stories I have read about discovering who you are in this world while wrapped (or spooned) in the love of your family.
Despite this, I was initially put off when I saw The Wonder Book and here's why: As someone who came of age with Shel Silverstein's books, I feel as protective of him and his legacy as I do Jim Henson's -I was one year old when Sesame Street debuted and an impressionable tween when The Muppet Show was created. To me, The Wonder Book looked too much like one of Shel Silverstein's books. But, when a review copy showed up in my mailbox I decided to give it a try. As the informational letter that accompanied the book notes (written by the Vice President and Editing Director of HarperCollins Children's, no less), "Amy's goal when writing this was to create a book that is worthy of sitting on the shelf next to Shel Silverstein - a lofty goal, but once you play with The Wonder Book I think you will agree." I love the use of the word "play" when talking about this book and I highly suggest you remember it when you pick it up and begin to read with or to your little listeners. The Wonder Book is a "treasury of poems, tongue-twisters, palindromes, silly stories and other kinds of wordplay," as the letter goes on to note, and can be read "forwards, backwards, sideways or even upside down." Paul Schmid, making his picture book debut, (and with three more coming next year) contributes playfully humorous line drawings that go perfectly with the playfully humorous writing in the book. Schmid's artwork evokes the spirit of Shel Silverstein's illustrations, but without the slightly weird 1970s sensibility that exists in Silverstein's work. And, best of all, there is an index of both key words and images!
One of the reasons that The Wonder Book is great for younger kids is because Rosenthal has some fun rewriting nursery rhymes which, hopefully are still fresh in the minds of 5 and 6 year olds. She even has a poem titled, The Less Famous Friends of Mary Mack. Having the luxury of living near an ocean we can swim in when the weather's accommodating, my 5 year old and I could not stop laughing at Rosenthal's reinterpretation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which I will share with you here:
In the sea
Don't look under
While I pee....
Totally juvenile, I know, but I love it. Rosenthal also reinterprets This Little Piggy:
Her longer poems, such as Pancake College, Prince Backwards, A Rose by Any Other Name, Fifi Hockenthal Thinks She Knows it All, A Tale About Rhyming... And Some Very Fortunate Timing are superb and are definitely worthy of sitting on the shelf next to any of Shel Silverstein's poems. My favorite, however, if Brat City (pictured below), which works on many levels. At ten stanzas, it is too long to type out here, but I strongly suggest all you parents out there read it for a good smirk and a snort. You can tell that Amy Krouse Rosenthal has kids and REMEMBERS being a kid!
This final illustration is from the piece titled, Week at a Glance and represents some of Rosenthal's wonderful word play.
The book may look small, compared to Where the Sidewalk Ends, and it may seen pricey in this time of penny pinching, but I guarantee you will get your money's worth from this book. I have sat and watched kids read through it again and again while I am at work at the bookstore and I have read it again and again to my own kids. The Wonder Book is a wonder and it's a wonder there aren't more books like this on the shelves. And in that, I think, is the secret to Amy Krouse Rosenthal's success as a children's book writer - she writes so much and she writes so well that she makes it seem easy. But, as the lack of books of this calibre on the shelves tells, writing The Wonder Book, Cookies, Spoon, Duck! Rabbit!, Little Hoot, Little Oink, Little Pea or Yes Day! is anything but easy!
Also, don't miss these picture books from Paul Schmid!