I grew up with Mercer Mayer's books, but not the ubiquitous Little Critter books of today. The Mercer Mayer I grew up with wrote books like There's A Nightmare in My Closet, A Boy, a Dog and a Frog, One Monster After Another and Professor Wormbog and the Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo. Mayer's early books had a Richard Scary-esque sense of wonder and wackiness and an overflow of imagination and kid power. Something was going on in every corner of the page, there were signs everywhere and anything was possible. I say this by way of digression but also to point out that so few picture books these days encompass this pleasant business found in books from the past. However, Steve Light's new book Zephyr Takes Flight comes close and reminds me fondly of Mercer and Marianna Mayer's Me and My Flying Machine from 1971 (scroll to the bottom of this review for illustrations from this book as well as a few other Mayer books my husband and I loved as kids.)
Actually, Zephyr Takes Flight reminds me of a mix of Mercer and Marianna Mayer's book and the amazingly detailed, fantastically plotted books of Arthur Geisert, which often have pigs as characters and always have some kind of contraption or another. In Light's book, the aviation-obsessed Zephyr gets a little too boisterous while taking flight in the living room and breaks a few things. Sent to her room, Zephyr moves some furniture and discovers the door to the most amazing workshop ever. A desk shows pages and pages of blueprints for fantastic flying machines and the hangar-sized space just happens to house these creations! Thrilled beyond belief, of course Zephyr takes flight!
But, when the engine cuts out and Zephyr is forced to make an emergency landing, she finds herself somewhere she's never been before. Zephyr finds herself in a village of flying pigs, befriended by the little Rumbus, the only pig in the whole town without wings. Zephyr finds a way to help Rumbus and the rest of the village finds a way to help Zephyr and every one flies away to a happy ending.
After visiting his website, I learned that Steve Light is a very diverse, very talented guy! Besides building the model flying machine above, Steve is also a fantastic storyteller who has created these amazing Story Boxes! Handcrafted and completely charming, Steve developed these while working in the classroom (watch his video below.) Not only are these great for capturing the attention of little listeners, but they inspire endless creativity in the hands of a child!
Mercer Mayer favorites from my childhood:
Illustrations from Mercer and Marianna Mayer's
Me and My Flying Machine.