Tell Me the Day Backwards is just pure brilliance. Albert Lamb takes a game we have all played with our children at one time or another and wraps it up in a cozy bedtime ritual that is both sweet and funny. David McPahil, who's work I am sure you are familiar with even if you don't realize it at first, makes the story all the more comfy with his furry bears and their tidy domestic world. I can't think of a book that is more comforting at bedtime since Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd's Goodnight Moon.
The book begins with Timmy Bear saying to his mother, "Let's play that game we used to play last summer... Let's play Tell Me the Day Backwards." Timmy starts by remembering brushing his teeth in the stream. Mama Bear confirms his memory and helps him along. As the day unfolds so do Timmy Bear's adventures, along with Mama Bear's occasional gentle admonishments to do things differently next time.
When Timmy Bear finally remembers all the way back to waking up in the morning with Mama Bear sitting on his bed she asks, "And can you remember the important thing that happened right before that?" Timmy Bear answers, "Before this morning, I slept and slept and slept; you and me and Papa Bear, we slept a deep sleep all through the whole long, cold winter." This isn't just any day Timmy Bear is remembering, it is his first day awake after a long hibernation.
What I especially love about Tell Me the Day Backwards is talking about the act of remembering itself. Little kids don't have the concept of narrative structure or sometimes even a grasp of the importance of one event over another in the course of their days. It is something they learn over time. After spending the day at school with him, my thirteen year old son was astonished when his little brother couldn't tell me anything he had done that day in his kindergarten class. What he had forgotten is, this is just how little kids are. They can't recall things independently, but with a little prompting and guidance, they can dig up all sorts of interesting memories. And remembering, sorting the events of the day and thinking about what was good and what wasn't, is such a great way to reflect on what is important. Tell Me the Day Backwards is such a wonderful way to start a conversation with your little one, or, even better, start a tradition!
David McPhail has written and illustrated or contributed illustrations to over fifty books and his illustrations for Albert Lamb's wonderful book are the perfect opportunity for me to tell you about my favorite David McPhail book, Water Boy. Written in 2007 and published by Abrams, publisher of some truly gorgeous books, Water Boy is no exception. There is no dust jacket for the book and the left hand side of the cover, where the title is, is smooth like a regular book. But the illustration on the cover and the back of the book have been printed on cloth, giving them a rich look and feel.
Upon learning in school that he is made up mostly of water, a little boy beings to wonder what this means for him. "Would he dissolve in the rain? Or turn to ice in the winter?"
This worries him at first, but he spends a lot of time observing and thinking about water, so much so that the water begins to sing to him and move at his command.
He begins to experiment with water and learns that, with a glass jar, some rainwater and a bit of sunshine, he can make a concoction that can clean up polluted waterways. The illustrations are a little bit murky, a little bit magical and completely enticing while the message is subtle. Below is an interesting quote from McPhail that makes this book even more magical to me and one more of his magical images.
Water Boy began as a series of little drawings (I try to do at least one every day). Water images kept showing up in my sketches and soon became a theme. After I'd done about eight or ten, I tried to connect them, but nothing worked, so I put the idea aside.
"I continued to draw, and my drawings were still infused with water. Then, without really trying, they began to reveal some continuity. I kept drawing and drawing, and the story continued to take shape. It came together so magically that it informed my new approach: Do the art you want, and the story will follow . . .