I’m so excited that I’ve started this blog and can now participate in a Friday feature that I’ve enjoyed reading for a while now: Perfect Picture Book Fridays, brought to us by the lovely Susanna Leonard Hill. Visit her site to see many more picture book reviews. I’ve also added my own little twist to these reviews – What a Reader Notices, and What a Writer Notices. I’m always analyzing stories — what draws readers in and keeps them interested, and wanted to explore that in these reviews. And so without babbling on any further, here’s my first review…
Author/Illustrator: Fiona Robertson
Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Fiction picture book
Themes: Friendship; sibling rivalry
Opening: Henry was too excited to sleep. He was thinking about the enormous pile of birthday presents waiting for him downstairs and trying to guess what Spot was going to give him.
Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) From the moment Spot answered Henry’s ad in the newspaper, the two have been inseparable. But then on Henry’s birthday, he gets a dog–the pet he’s always wanted! Feeling left out, Spot leaves for his old home, and gets caught in a terrible storm. Henry is devastated when he finds Spot missing and is quickly hot on his trail. With the help of his new dog, Henry saves him and Spot finds out that even with a new pet in his life, Henry would never let his best friend go.
What makes it great: It’s a simple story where every detail is important. I loved the unexpected plot twists.
What readers notice: Both kids, 7 and 3, were enthralled with this story. They loved the drama – when Spot leave Henry and goes out into the night. They spent a long time looking at the picture of Spot, stuck in the middle of the river with lightening striking nearby. As an arbiter of sibling disputes, I liked how this story connects, in a subtle way, to the arrival of a new sibling.
What a writer notices: The plot twists are really great – as a reader you are compelled to keep reading because you have no idea what is going to happen next. It starts off as a somewhat ordinary story: Henry is looking forward to his birthday and excitedly opens his presents, one of which turns out to be a new puppy. From there, one would never guess that Spot would run away, that it would rain, that a river would flood, that Spot would become trapped in the rising water, that the puppy would try to rescue him, and then require rescuing himself – or how that rescue would take place (which I won’t give away). It reminds me of that advice to throw out the first few ideas that come to mind when working on a story – if it’s the first thing that comes to your mind, it’s probably the first thing that comes to everyone else’s, too. Create something unexpected, instead.
Links to Resources: I didn’t find any online resources for this book. I think a great extension activity would be a creative writing or storytelling exercise. My son has a fun game called Story Cubes, where you roll dice and try to tell a story that incorporates the characters, events, and other story elements depicted on the dice. This leads to some great twists and turns in the story, just like the unexpected twists in The Perfect Present.