CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 34. . . .May 12, 2017
Wilson, Do You Hear It?, by Diane Van Wart, illustrations by Monika Hansen, is the story of young Little Hare consulting his older, wiser friend, Wilson the farm dog, on various sounds and noises of the forest and homestead. The excerpt above supplies the formula for these exchanges in which Little Hare overhears and then voices some distinct sound, Wilson provides a clue in the form of a rhyming word, then, once the page is turned, the animal is revealed, and Little Hare makes good on his guess.
This picture book is a classic call and response, or Q&A, and it accomplishes numerous things with playful economy. The guessing game format will start wheels turning for the young listener or reader, while animal sounds are universally enjoyed opportunities for pantomime and noise making. Wilson's rhyming clues offer the child a different kind of mental exercise (later providing mnemonic pairs), while introducing vocabulary not pictured - a child might readily envision the rhyming "baboon" against "racoon," but will they recognize "bobbin" against "robin"? (The enthusiastic listener will, in triumph, leap to the name of the mystery animal, but such points do supply matter for second and third and fourth readings.) Finally, Wilson's affirmations punctuate the story with episodic praise that's as applicable to kids as to hares: "Great job!" In short, the story is simply and elegantly structured.
Monika Hansen's watercolours, for their part, depict the animals and scenes realistically without being overly literal - there is to each page a soft, dreamy, distancing quality. It's difficult to imagine children of any age or level experience being much taken aback by the illustrations, though that's not to say they won't be intrigued. In picture, as in word, the classic antagonisms of the animal kingdom are suspended or omitted (I don't know if I entirely trust the cat).
While remarking that each animal is appropriate to its softly realistic milieu, I'll add that Van Wart sets herself a few challenges in the choice of animal noises to transcribe. The vocalizations of a chipmunk, for instance, or a skunk, are difficult things to render into script, for all that they can be fun things to attempt to imitate (the skunk is nice as a potential stumper for one's audience). In any event, where letters may or may not fumble, performance plays the trump, and parents, teachers, and tellers are in a position to make hay with this story - add animals, change rhymes, substitute noises, or simply pick at elements under-examined in earlier readings. There's lots of mileage here. The creators of Wilson, Can You Hear It? shouldn't have to strain to hear my recommendation.
Jeff Strain is a librarian on Vancouver Island.
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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.