Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Literature Review: The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle (Board Book Rerelease) (1997)

The Very Quiet Cricket was originally released in 1990 as a children's book, but I'm not reading that version! I'm sure they're quite similar, but the version I have is the 1997 rerelease on thick cardboard pages with a few added bells and whistles. I'm not sure how important that really is, but I thought it was something worth mentioning.

This is a simple children's book which follows the tried and true method of thrusting a protagonist into existence and sending him on a journey where he will encounter a new character on each page who will either teach a lesson or make evident the protagonist's flaws and encourage in some way that he sort out his issues and rise to the top. This story takes the latter approach, giving us a newborn cricket who is unable to sing with his legs (I guess nobody told him to hit puberty first).

It's simple form, and the book does nothing horrendous with the concept. Each page contains about four lines of easy dialogue designed to help kids manage the language and some art which is really hit or miss. While the bugs all generally look fairly decent and are colored with eye-catching prisms, the plants and other scenery is all extremely messy and juvenile. In fact, the grass is nothing more than a series of scribbles. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Carle had a child do the grass for him.

One thing that did bug me about the story was the absolute lack of quotations. I understand what the purpose behind this is (it signifies that the animals are communicating through noise rather than literal speech), it didn't quite feel right. From the perspective of the bugs, they are speaking in actual languages. We don't talk the quotes away from Spanish-speaking characters simply because their noises aren't the native languages of the writer, do we? Particularly not when we're actually writing out what it is they said?

This version of the book includes an added bonus: noise! It breaks all the rules by hitting us not just in our eyes and our brains (and our noses with that delicious papery smell. Oooh, come to me, dead trees!)  but it hits our ears as well. Of course, the noise is only for the last two pages in which our closemouthed cricket finally learns to sing. Unfortunately, the accompanying noise is an awful digital drone which sounds suspiciously like a wrist watch (people still have these, right?) alarm. While it's kind of cute and pleasant for the first loop, after that it really becomes grating and I found it distracting. Made it slightly difficult to concentrate on the last few sentences, despite their extreme shortness. Perhaps it was the repeating of the same sound...

The story is also kind of hampered by a lack of emotional context. Each page greets us with the same pattern: friendly creature says "Hi", Cricket tries to reply in kind, but finds that he is unable to. We're never told how this makes the cricket feel. With all the information we're given, he is entirely indifferent to his inability to speak. I know children might fill in that blank of being unable to do something that they want to do with sadness, but a little acknowledgement that, yes, this is making the cricket very unhappy might have helped the book fall into the trap of being overly detached.

Ultimately The Very Quiet Cricket is an okay book. At the least, it'll be over in five minutes, so parents who absolutely loathe "Reading Time" shouldn't have too much trouble with this one. Otherwise there isn't really a whole lot to it. There's no struggle, no lesson, no consequences, nothing of substance. I suppose it could teach children that crickets sing by rubbing their legs together, and it's simple enough that having it around to help children learn to read is probably a good idea. Still, there isn't a whole lot to digest about this... but it isn't bad. I think this is probably the first neutral thing I've reviewed (although I suspect there will be many more as I go through this vast ocean of children's books I've collected). Five out of ten, Crickety sir.

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