Monday, June 4, 2007

Picture Book Review: The Growing Story

Heavens knows I don’t need another picture book to add to my collection—but sometimes I just can’t help myself. When I was browsing around at the Banbury Cross Children’s Book Shop on Saturday, the front cover of a picture book caught my eye. I opened up the book, flipped through the pages, and knew I had to have the book…even before reading the text. I would have bought this book just for the illustrations!

I will admit that I usually have an emotional response to fine art and to illustrations in a picture book. I can look at art and know that I like it…know that it appeals to something inside me without stopping to evaluate why. It’s a response that is hard to express precisely in writing. I can tell you that the art in THE GROWING STORY captured my heart! I don’t how else to say it.

Written by Ruth Krauss
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
HarperCollins, 2007

This is a simple story about a little boy who wonders if he will grow bigger. In spring, he notices that everything around him is growing—the grass, buds on trees, flowers on the side of the barn—and asks his mother if the baby chicks, his puppy, and he will grow too. His mother assures him that they all will grow.

A little time passes and the boy continues to see changes in the world around him. The days grow longer and the nights shorter. The grass grows faster, the flowers higher, and the leaves bigger. “We’re growing too,” the little boy assures the chicks and his puppy. When the days grow warmer, the little boy and his mother fold up his warm pants and his warm coat and put them away in a box. His mother informs him that he will put them on again once summer is past.

Summer progresses into autumn—all the while the roses and honeysuckle have bloomed, the corn has gotten taller than a man, and the pears have ripened. Even the chicks and puppy have grown up. The little boy wonders to himself if he is really growing. It is not until the cold weather returns and the little boy puts on his warm clothes once again that he realizes he HAS grown. The pants are too tight and the legs are too short. The sleeves on his jacket are also too short. Excited, he somersaults outside and announces to the chicks (that are now hens) and his puppy (who is now a big dog): “I’m growing too.”

This is most certainly a story to which young children can relate. They are always eager to grow taller and older so they can be like the “big” kids. Krauss’s text addresses the subject matter with plain and simple language—and lots of repetition, echoing the boy’s persistent questions and the perpetual changes in the plants and animals he sees all about him over the course of several months. This is a lovely tale about a child’s desire to grow up told in the context of seasonal changes.

I have never seen the original edition of THE GROWING STORY that was illustrated by Phyllis Rowand and published in 1947. I can’t imagine that the illustrations in the earlier edition could have complemented and interpreted the text of this story any better than Oxenbury’s illustrations.

Oxenbury sets the story on a farm in the countryside. She uses a palette of soft colors in her paintings. Her realistic watercolors and black and white drawings are the perfect mate for this old classic. Oxenbury is adept at drawing facial expressions, body language, and physical positions of the little boy, his mother, and the animals so that they display the characters’ feelings of wonder, love, excitement, comfort, and happiness.

The artist varies her illustrations in this book—some are two-page full color spreads with no frames or borders, some are smaller close-up illustrations of the boy and his mother in color, some are black and white drawings of the dog and hens. In two of the large paintings, the boy and his dog are but a tiny part of the illustrations—in effect, showing readers this boy’s sense of feeling so small in a world where everything seems to be growing but him. A two-page spread of the boy and his mother walking through an orchard of blossoming fruit trees is a glory of white blossoms, sunlight, and shadows.

THE GROWING STORY is a real charmer of a book. There is so much more to tell you about the ways Oxenbury employed every bit of the book from the front cover and endpapers to the back cover to enhance and extend the meaning of Krauss’s tale—but you’re just going to have to find yourself a copy and read it to see why I love this little gem of a picture book!

Classroom Connection for Preschool and Kindergarten Teachers: I think it would be a great idea to read this book to a small group or class of young children at the beginning of the school year and then measure their heights. At the end of the year, the story could be reread to the children and they could be measured once again. The children could then compare their heights to see how much they had grown from September to June.


Written by Lilian Moore
Illustrated by Jill McElMurry
Candlewick Press, 2001

This collection contains short poems for very young children about such subjects as the following: wearing a snowsuit, sneezing, peanut butter, waiting, finger painting, playing in the sand, and growing.

by Lilian Moore

I’m taller today
but nobody knows.
I looked in the mirror
way up on my toes.
For the very first time
I saw

Written by Lilian Moore
Illustrated by Lilian Hoban
Atheneum, 1995

This collection, which is now out of print, contains poems that speak to the experiences of very young children: hanging upside down on the monkey bars for the very first time, wearing a new pair of sneakers, going for a walk with an understanding grandpa, sliding downhill on a sled alone, and outgrowing last year’s coat.

From The Coat in My Closet

I opened the closet and
there was my coat—
the coat that I wore last year…

“I don’t reach your knees,”
the coat complained.
“Whatever did you do?”

“Coat,” I explained,
“I grew.”

1 comment:

SevenImpossible said...

What a thorough and detailed review of the Krauss and Oxenbury book! And I LOVE that first collection of Lilian Moore's poetry. "I'm Small" is one of my favorite children's poems. I haven't seen that second one and will have to look for it. Thanks!

Jules, 7-Imp