Friday, November 23, 2012

30 Days of Picture Books - Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino

It's Day 23 of Picture Book Month, and also happens to be the Day after Thanksgiving here in the States. That means crazy shopping marathons for lots of people, as the stores go nuts competing for who can over-work their retail employees the most. I do find it somewhat ironic that Thanksgiving is a day for being grateful, and the day after is a day for dropping loads of money on stuff. . .

So on the heels of that, it seemed like a great day to feature today's pick, which is all about competition and what it can do to a friendship. Picture books are perfect for sharing lessons about values, as they provide lots of interesting scenarios against which kids can judge right from wrong. Picture book characters often act in outrageous ways, in order to make the moral lesson most obvious for little ones. What in just a few years' time is taught best with subtlety is at Sprout's age best communicated through narratives that have big neon arrows pointing out the message the author is driving at. But still, it has to be done in a fun way, free of didacticism or preachiness.

Today's selection is the fabulous Too Tall Houses by author/illustrator Gianna Marino. Marino is a new author for me, but after this outing I'm anxious to check out her previous picture book Meet Me at the Moon. In Too Tall Houses, we have a tale with an Aesop-esque quality that I just love. Rabbit and Owl are happy neighbors, living side-by-side in two houses that are each the right size. Rabbit is a gardener and his veggies need sunlight, while Owl is more introspective and loves a forest view. But suddenly Rabbit's garden is obscuring Owl's line of sight, so Owl builds his house up a bit. Then Rabbit's veggies can't get the sun, so Rabbit adds on to his place. On and on it goes, until the two friends have each built houses of gargantuan proportions (I love the use of exaggeration here). But houses this big can't stand for long -- and what will the neighbors do when their too tall houses are destroyed by the wind?

Fables are an enduring artform for a reason, as they're a great way to teach moral truths, especially to young readers. Owl and Rabbit are perfect archetypes for the lesson here, about being content with what you have and not trying to compete or be better than another. Further, we learn about what it takes to be a good friend. When Owl built his house up and blocked the sunlight, Sprout's instant reaction was, "Now Rabbit will be mad at him!", and that gave us a great opportunity to talk about consideration of others.

Marino's illustrations have an old-school quality about them that effortlessly supports the tone of her story. Illustrations like these are the stuff of a young child's dreams. Small details abound (we like the spread where Owl ends up with a tomato on his head) and those add to the overall delight of this charming tale. A wonderful addition to any library, Too Tall Houses wraps some serious life truths in a most appealing package.

Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino, published by Viking

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