Review: Beyond the Pond


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Joseph Kuefler
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (published October 2015)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0062364278
ISBN-13: 978-0062364272

Just behind an ordinary house filled with too little fun, Ernest D. had decided today would be the day that he’d explore the depths of his pond.

Children always want to know things.

“What’s in that box?”

“What are you eating?”

“What’s under the surface of that pond?”

The trouble with the rushed and over-busy way we live right now is that instead of celebrating curiosity, we have created a world where curiosity is perceived as annoying, where we tell children “I don’t know, get in the car” and “We’ll look later” when they ask us “What’s that?” “What’s in there?” “How does that work?” We don’t have time to sit down with them, to wonder with them, to say, “I don’t know what’s in that pond; why don’t we find out together?”

Well, Ernest D. decides to find out on his own.

First he tries a stick, a fishing line, and a stone, but nothing hits the bottom of his pond. So he gathers his supplies, stretches three times, and dives . . .

. . . down between the fishes and the frogs, past the squid and sharks and shapeless things, into his pond forever deep.

I won’t reveal to you the wonders Ernest D. finds in his pond, nor the strange and astounding world he discovers on the other side. But I will tell you that when Ernest D. returns, nothing is as it was when he’d left.

His house seemed a little less small.

And his town looked a little less ordinary . . . Beyond every street and silent corner was a place unexplored.

“Exceptional,” said Ernest D.

[You can read a wonderful interview with Joseph Kuefler, including some preliminary sketches of the book, over at Design of the Picture book.]



Review: The Something


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
Publisher: PAN Macmillan Childrens Books (published October 2014)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0230764827
ISBN-13: 978-0230764828

You could summarize this book like so: “A girl saw a hole in the ground. The end.” But then again, you could also summarize Goodnight Moon like this: “Goodnight to all the things.”

I was already a fan of Rebecca Cobb’s illustration in Julia Donaldson’s The Paper Dolls when I stumbled across this book at our local bookstore. I occasionally buy books to add to our “gift stash” to bring to birthday parties and whatnot, but this one somehow made it out of the box and onto our shelves because I knew Little E would love it. Cobb’s illustrations are sweetly childlike without being saccharine, and the story is also a child’s-eye-view tale.

So. A girl finds a hole in the ground and wonders what is down there. She’s sure it’s…something. Her mum speculates that the hole might be a doorway into a little mouse’s house; her sister says the something is most likely a scary troll; her best friend is sure it’s a dragon. The split-level illustrations explore the possibilities of the world below the ground, taking us through all the different prospects of what could be down there. Is it a snake? A squirrel? A fox listening to a record player? A mole knitting? We never do find out, but the little narrator is watching…and waiting…just in case.

In the modern age of smart phones and smart toys and smart everything, I think books about the power of the imagination are more important than ever. And this one is simple, lovely, and just the thing to lead readers to go looking for holes in the ground and trees in their neighbourhoods and wonder what somethings might be inside.