It’s been a LONG time coming, but welcome one and all to another edition of Weekly Readings!
For those new here, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews picture books I’ve read here and there.
While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again…This week, we’ve got a duet of Tough Guy tales with a twist-
Big Mean Mike
By Michelle Knudsen (@MichelleKnudsen)
Illustrated by Scott Magoon (@smagoon)
Publisher: Candlewick Press (U.S.) [@Candlewick]
Walker Books Ltd [@WalkerBooksUK] (U.K.)
Pub. Date: August 14, 2012
I’ve been wanting to read this book since it first came out back in 2012, but it took me FAR longer to finally get to it, but now I’ve finally got my paws on it, and now I get to share it with you, my precious readers.
Contrary to the title, this isn’t a “Big ‘n Bad, Huff and Puff Wolfie deal”, but rather the story of a roughneck canine who takes wears his Big and Mean image with pride. What better way to challenge that image then to be surrounded something opposite of big and mean, in this case: tiny and cute bunnies!
Illustrator Scott Magoon does a fabulous job sequencing the pacing through his illustrations, and smart use of lineart to infer motion and expression of the characters. be they central or extras in the background.
As if to say “Mean Mutt versus Relentless Rabbits-SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!” to loosely evoke the high octane spirit of monster truck shows, which is also featured in this book. I’m not a big car guy (despite living in Detroit [aka “The Motor City] my whole life), but I did have my dreams of owning and driving a vintage Ford Thunderbird.
Those of you who grew up with younger siblings (or relatives akin to siblings) will find much humor and catharsis as Mike is surrounded by bunnies at every turn. Or if you were the younger sibling, this is a humorous glimpse of how your big bro or sis felt whenever you tagged along against their will, whether you idolized him or liked to mess with her…(Or some combo thereof)
In any group of friends, there’s always that one or two friends that you might feel a bit embarrassed by, not because of who they are, but how it might look to those who don’t know that friend like you do. The title’s a bit of a misnomer, but as you read the story, you’ll see that’s part of the point.
Big Mean Mike is a non-preachy reminder that our self-image isn’t everything, nor is it one-dimensional. I speak from personal experience in this matter.
I started “Talking Animal Addicts” in large part to shed the shame I used to carry about being into something many others my age have “Grown out of”, or interested in things I was interested in others weren’t, like cooking and liking non-rap music.
All that to say, this is one of those books my 5 year old self could’ve used, but I’m glad it’s here now for the kids who need it, and this lit. rat’s honored to play some small part in spreading the good word, and to loosely quote Mike, “That’s EXACTLY how The Literary Rat likes it!”
(Check Out the Fan Book Trailer I made for “Big Mean Mike”)
Fox and Fluff
By Shutta Crum
Illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Pub. Date: September 1st 2002
This is one of those I just happened to stumble across in one of my many book hunts, and I knew when I started doing book reviews on T.A.A. last year, I knew this was one of the books I’d most want to recommend.
I meant to to time this review for Father’s Day 2014, but life and tech got in the way, and hey, now more than ever before in recorded history, dads need empowering all throughout the year!
What happens when a hungry fox and orphaned baby chick meet? Not what you might think…
Fox decided to spare the poor “Mixed up” chick and takes his leave. However, the chick (named Fluff) has chosen Fox to be his “Papa.” Despite Fluff’s best efforts to be a hunting partner, Fox knows the only thing to do is leave Fluff in the care of others his own species. The only thing is, Fluff’s too “Foxy” for them! (Peep! Peep! Grr!)
While masterful mother and child books are eternally bountiful, we’re still playing catch up with dad and child stories, particularly ones that reflect the more varied and open-hearted fathers of the 21st Century, versus the dictating “Master of the House” image that for many families and cultures still persists today.
One of the issues I feel plagues a lot of dad and child stories (particularly in books for older readers) is that they’re either silly to a fault or so strict you want to reach into the story, and drag them by the ear before they do their kid untold emotional damage…Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, thankfully in the picture book space we’ve got dads of varying styles and temperaments. Similar to “Big Mean Mike”, Fox has an image to uphold, further enhanced by being a carnivore, he hunts bunnies, mice and the like-and Fluff’s attempts to “help his Papa” only complicates matters.
I usually am wary of “Accidental Dad” stories as they can make look more incompetent than they really are.
But this book avoids that pitfall as we see Fox slowly (by picture book standards) evolve from wanting to be rid of Fluff, to being unable to imagine life without him around.
The ending (which I won’t spoil here) is the cherry on top to a charming, well-told and drawn tale.
For anyone (especially you single dads out there) looking for the fatherly companion to “Are You My Mother?” look no more, you’ve found it in Fox and Fluff!
(Check Out the Fan Book Trailer I made for “Fox and Fluff”)
That’s it for Weekly Readings. Check back next time!