CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 20. . . .January 29, 2016
Sherman and the Sheep Shape Contest works well for school and public library programming for ages 5-7. Author Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian and clearly has a strong understanding of curriculum for the early elementary grades. This book highlights creative problem solving by transferring knowledge from one context to another. It also touches on math concepts that are suitable for these grades and provides an empathetic look at the first days of school. However, while this book addresses these learning needs, it may be fulfilling them at the benefit of the story being told. The plot lacks cohesion, and its resolution feels less satisfying since the reader loses sight of the problem set up at the beginning of the book.
The plot contains a story within a story. The larger story sets up the problem of how Farmer Barney and his sheep are going to learn their shapes for the sheep shape contest. However, the enterprising Sherman the sheep decides to go to school to figure out a solution. This launches the reader into the smaller story of Sherman’s adventure at school. Like many of the intended readers for this book, he feels both excited and overwhelmed by the classroom. Young readers can empathize with these feelings.
Sherman learns soccer and applies the math concept of grouping to help his team win a soccer game. For young readers who have not been exposed to soccer, the soccer game vignette can be confusing with its use of terminology like midfielder, forward and defense. The flow of this scene may be interrupted with the need to define the words. On the flip side, young readers who do play or watch soccer will recognize and be engaged by the use of this vocabulary. Zaidman writes the game like a sports announcer and builds up excitement of the game down to its final minute. The soccer game nicely wraps up the application of the math lesson; however, the story is not yet over.
Returning to the larger plot, young readers may feel impatient for the story to end since the winning of the soccer game feels like a natural ending point. While it is admirable to demonstrate how one concept can be applied to two different problems, this causes the plot to drag on and the conclusion of the larger story, when it comes, to feel less satisfying.
Sherman and the Sheep Shape Contest is an adult-mediated reader experience: the amount of text per spread is quite high for a picture book, and the language used can be too sophisticated for readers in early elementary levels. While the majority of the book uses challenging but age-appropriate vocabulary, there are sections where words like “passers-by” and “complex equations” (p. 27) are used instead of more simple and straightforward words. This difficult language may take away from young readers’ enjoyment of the story itself.
Sonia Nadeau’s illustrations are charming and have a homemade feel. Unlike the sleek computer-rendered illustrations common in many of today’s books, the texture of the underlying paper is visible in her pen and watercolour illustrations. It is wonderful to see these illustrations depict a diverse cast of children that reflects the diversity in Canadian schools. The sheep are also each drawn with unique characteristics and expressions that will encourage young readers to guess at their personalities. Each illustration is lively and interactive.
While the story may feel a little complicated, Sherman and the Sheep Shape Contest would still be a valuable addition to the shelves of any school or public library. Using stories to teach math concepts is a great way to engage with young readers who find math difficult. Stories can humanize numbers and other abstract concepts for young learners. This book also demonstrates how multiple literacies are interconnected. Math, language development, and problem-solving skills are all intertwined in Sherman and the Sheep Shape Contest.
Sabrina Wong is a librarian at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.