The Patterson Puppies, written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli
The one and only board book I bought for my son during his infancy was Leslie Patricelli's Blankie. By the time my third child arrived (seven years after my second and eleven years after my first) my husband and I decided to limit our purchases of baby related items in the interest of frugality and use. All baby clothing and gear that was not horribly stained would be leaving our house as donations. With number one and number two, to a lesser degree, our rational was always, "Well, the next kid can use it and we will get our money's worth..." Hardest for me, this has meant the curtailing of my children's book purchases, and the first place I had to learn to cut back was board books. Thus the one board book. Of course this wasn't his ONLY board book - we had leftovers from number one and two and he received a few as gifts, so his infancy was not a totally illiterate one.
Leslie Patricelli is a master of the board book format. Her first six books are a bite-sized visits to planet baby and extremely entertaining for parents to read. Like Eric Carle and Lucy Cousins, her artwork is full of bright colors and simple black lines that make her illustrations pop. You can guess the plot of each book by the title, but that doesn't make them any less readable. The baby star and narrator of the books is mischievous enough (without being a bad influence) that there are laugh out loud moments that can also be subtle teaching moments by focusing on one of the first concepts babies learn - opposites. Besides the obvious opposites, Patricelli sometimes has her text tell a story that is the opposite of her illustrations, like in Blankie when the baby says, "Blankie does everything with me...watches the same shows I do (over and over again), plays with kitty. and has time outs." "Playing with kitty," for baby, means covering kitty with Blankie and pulling on his tail, which is followed by a tearful time-out. While Patricelli does not shy away for the learning curve of toddlerhood that can make for frequent reprimands and time-outs, she also always includes those moments of sweetness that make it all worthwhile. The tantrums are always followed by love and hugs. Leslie Patricelli must have kids, or else a very intense memory of her infancy, because her books are vivid pictures of the day to day mundanities of babyhood that are also often, paradoxically, the bright spots of this time.
Leslie Patricelli has also written three picture books, the first two, The Birthday Box and Higher! Higher!, are definitely extensions of her series of board books. While they do have plots, their story lines are short enough that they are a great step up from board books for babies who have an expanding attention span. The Birthday Box takes a familiar theme - the baby who plays with the box more than the gift inside - and adds a bit of creative imagination for a great book. Higher! Higher!, imagines what a little girl can see as her obliging dad pushes her higher and higher...
And, finally, the reason for this review - The Patterson Puppies and the Rainy Day! With this book, Patricelli expands on her themes of playfulness and creativity with a dash of bad judgement. Multiplying her characters and her word count, she tells the story of a litter of well meaning puppies who, when they run out of ideas for play on a rainy day, decide to pretend they are on the beach. A spilled tea cup of water leads to an ocean in the living room. When mom and pop discover the mess the puppies do not have to worry about being bored again. As Patricelli writes, "The Patterson puppies had a lot to do the rest of that rainy day. They mopped with towels; they mopped with mops. They mopped and mopped and mopped and mopped. Papa set up fans to blow the carpet dry." Their day ends with a bowl of popcorn and their favorite TV show. But, when the bowl spills and the fans blow the popcorn everywhere, the puppies' imaginations get fired up all over again! Look for the Patterson Puppies in their next adventure, The Patterson Puppies and the Midnight Monster Party coming in May of 2010.