Having read to my own kids and at hundreds of story times at the bookstore where I work, one thing I can say for sure is that kids LOVE a book that seems to be following a familiar pattern but ultimately proves unpredictable. Mac Barnett and Adam Rex's Guess Again! is the perfect example of this subversion in action. David Ezra Stein's Interrupting Chicken and Jules Feiffer's Bark, George are also superb specimens of this phenomena. Add to this short list Fiona Robinson's What Animals Really Like.
First of all, Robinson's illustrations, along with the first and final spreads of the book, both of which are gatefold illustrations, making the picture a full four pages across instead of the usual two, are perfectly suited to the performance aspect of this book. Page one, above, lets us know that Mr Herbert Timberteeth, composer and conductor, is putting on a show. Turn the page and open the gatefold to reveal all the performers on the stage and ready to sing. Robinson's artwork is playfully and colofully cartoonish and filled with details. The animal groups begin to sing:
We are lions,
and we like to prowl.
We are wolves,
and we like to howl.
We are pigeons,
and we like to coo.
We are cows and we like to . . .
This is the part that kids love. As I was reading it to my son he instinctively said, "Moo," at the end of the line. Boy, was he wrong! A turn of the page reveals cows who like to dig! Mr Timberteeth is perplexed, but the show must go on. Another four couplets ending with warthogs and a turn of the page reveals a love of bubble blowing.
Now Mr Timberteeth is bursting his buttons and screaming, "Stop! Stop! That's not my song." Note the glow worms in the shells lighting the stage...
The animals continue to express themselves. The lions like to arrange flowers, the horses like deep sea diving and, my favorite, the shrimp like skiing! One of the little shrimp even has three of her arm/legs in casts. Robinson is as creative as she is silly in her her story and pictures. The final pages of the book where all the animals are on stage doing what they like best are superb. The book ends with the animals singing in unison on a four page spread, "But most of all we like singing for you! Thank you for listening to our song!" Sometimes the book rhymes, sometimes it doesn't, sometimes you want to sing the text and sometimes you just read. The book itself is as much a free-for-all as the animals' performance, and that makes it even more fun to read out loud. I have no doubt that any animal loving, song loving little listener you know will be completely enchanted by the crazy collection of animals and their hobbies that Fiona Robinson has brought together for What Animals Really Like.
Fiona Robinson is also the author and illustrator of The Useful Moose.