CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 23 . . . . February 19, 2016
Before young children become part of the formal school system, they are "homeschooled" by their parents. Among their early learnings are the numbers from one to ten, the letters of the alphabet, colours and shapes. In the trio of books under review, Kenny tackles numbers, the alphabet and colours.
The title, Counting Kittens 1, 2, 3, found on the cover page, suggests that the book is going to be a traditional counting book, one that begins with one kitten, and then subsequent pages each add an additional kitten. Such is not the case, and those who already know the number sequence through 10 are the intended audience for this book. The dedication page features full-colour photos of the author's 10 cats. The book's premise is that, on a nice day by the Bay of Fundy, 10 kittens are seeking an adventure. Faced with many choices, they finally decide to have a camping trip. The next 10 pairs of facing pages describe what various groupings of these kittens, always totalling 10, do while on this camping trip. As the excerpt above demonstrates, five kittens gathered firewood while the other five set up tents. On another pair of facing pages, seven kittens went sailing while the remaining three went fossil hunting on the shore. About two-thirds of each page is taken up by one of Kenny's full-colour illustrations while the bottom third consists of Kenny's poetry which is rendered in rhyming couplets.
Children are given two opportunities to engage in counting on each pair of facing pages. The first is to count the number of kittens found on each page to see if their total matches the number mentioned in that page's text. In most cases, each illustrated kitten to be counted is quite distinct, but there are two instances wherein kittens are overlapped with each other or an object, a situation that could be challenging to the younger end of the book's counting audience. The second counting opportunity comes via Kenny's adding, beneath her text, small illustrations of something mentioned in that page's text. Using the excerpt as an example, Kenny has added five brown logs to represent the firewood and, on the facing page, five blue tents. Counting Kittens 1, 2, 3 concludes with two "review" pages in which these various items are variously combined, and the young readers are to count them and arrive at totals.
Though the concept of the book is admirable, its execution is weak. Kenny's decision to use poetry as opposed to prose was a poor one as frequently her rhyming couplets do not scan well, and her artwork comes across as somewhat amateurish. Given the book's short length, there is no excuse for any spelling and grammar errors or sentence faults.
School and public libraries can pass on Counting Kittens 1, 2, 3.
Lest any teacher-librarians think that the "Dewey" in The Alphabet According to Dewey is Melville Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal Classification system, such is not the case. This "Dewey" is a real orange tabby cat that belongs to the author (and was one of the cats featured in the dedication page of Counting Kittens 1, 2, 3). This time, Kenny has decided to illustrate her book via full-colour photos that feature Dewey who is occasionally accompanied by some other unidentified felines. Again, the author uses poetry for her text, with her six-line poems using an ABCBDB rhyme scheme. As was the case with Counting Kittens 1, 2, 3, the poetry in The Alphabet According to Dewey often doesn't scan well.
Each page contains two photos of Dewey with the poetry sandwiched between them. The featured letter of the alphabet is introduced only in its upper case form, but Kenny is inconsistent in using upper and lower case in her examples. For instance, "S is for Sisters" while "E is for explore". Given the differences in appearance of a letter in its upper and lower case forms, Kenny needed to provide both.
Generally, the book's photos are of acceptable quality, but there are occasions when Kenny should have dealt with the feline equivalent of photography's red-eye effect. Leaving the photos untouched sometimes causes Dewey's eyes to look scary or otherworldly. As well, the photos and text do not always agree. In P is for party", readers are told in the next two lines that "I celebrate each year / I turned five years old in June", but the photo of Dewey above this text finds him reclining under an artificial Christmas tree. In "V is for vacuum", there is no vacuum to be seen in either photo. Because Dewey is sometimes shown as an adult cat and occasionally as a kitten, younger readers/viewers may have difficulty understanding that it's the same cat.
Though The Alphabet According to Dewey is not a particularly good example of an alphabet book, its cat photos may appeal to some.
According to some prefatory material in The Adventures of Digbee: Have You Seen My Touque?, a dinosaur, the coelophysis (pronounced SEE-low-FIE-sis), once roamed parts of Nova Scotia. Kenny has anthropomorphized a coelophysis, naming him Digbee and outfitting him with a multicoloured touque and yellow rubber boots. On a blustery day, the wind blew Digbee's touque off his head, and the rest of the story deals with Digbee's attempts to recover his headgear. Along the way, he seeks the assistance of a polar bear, snake, beaver, frog, fish, duck, peacock, butterfly, fox and a lynx before recovering his touque that was caught on the antlers of a moose. A relieved and happy Digbee can then return home.
Most of the story, which is weakly illustrated by Kenny's cartoon-like illustrations, is told via quatrains having a rhyme scheme of AABB. Despite the book's title, there is little "adventure" in The Adventures of Digbee as the "action" consists of Digbee's asking each "critter" if it has seen his touque and then being directed on to a new place to look. The real "surprise" in The Adventures of Digbee occurs after Digbee's story is completed. Turning over the page, the reader discover a full-page carrying the directions "So ... Lets [sic] Review". And what are we to review? The plot? No, the principal colours of the "animals" mentioned in the text. But their colours were never stated! The last page contains an outline image of 11 of the story's "characters", and each outline is filled in with a single colour. Kenny has taken some liberties with the characters' colours, such as that of a "black" beaver. (To be fair, my WEB research did indicate that 6% of North American beavers are black.)
Overall, The Adventures of Digbee is a disappointing book, one that does not merit purchase by school or public libraries.
Counting Kittens 1, 2, 3 - Not Recommended.
The Alphabet According to Dewey - Recommended with Reservations.
The Adventures of Digbee: Have You Seen My Touque? - Not Recommended.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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