Friday, November 15, 2013

30 Days of Picture Books - Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

Welcome to Day 8 of our 30 Days of Picture Books! It's a cold, wet November evening here in the Pacific Northwest, which to us just means a chance to curl up with a blanket, a kitty and a great book. We hope you have a chance to do the same!

Tonight's pick is an oldie-but-goodie that we've been reading since Sprout was a wee -- well, sprout. In fact, Ezra Jack Keats' books The Snowy Day, Peter's Chair and today's pick Whistle for Willie were some of the first books we added to our home library, when we knew we would be bringing home an Ethiopian boy. We felt then that it was important to surround our son with literary heroes and heroines of diverse backgrounds. And today, nearly 3 1/2 years later, we feel even more strongly about the subject, which you probably know if you've been following along here on the blog.

Whistle for Willie follows Keats' recurring character Peter in another urban adventure. In this outing, Peter is wishing he was able to whistle for his dog, Willie, like he sees another boy doing. While Peter's working on his whistling skills, he explores the neighborhood, then heads home for a little pretending. He decides it would be funny to surprise Willie by hiding and whistling - and after a couple of tries, he really does it! But of course Willie doesn't know Peter from a whistle, and he's plenty surprised at Peter's new skills, as are Peter's mom and dad. And in the final spread, on a trip to the store, Peter "whistled all the way there, and he whistled all the way home."

Keats absolutely nails the character of Peter here - rarely will you see a young boy so faithfully depicted, in his absolute randomness. I love the randomness of what Peter does when he's trying to learn to whistle, and I especially adore the scene with Peter and his mom, when Peter's trying on his dad's hat (no spoilers - you have to read the book to get it!). The collage technique Keats used for the illustration is just as fresh and exuberant today as it was when the book was published first in 1964. And best of all, there's a board book version available so even the youngest readers can have access to this bit of yummy way-back kidlit. (The set makes a great baby shower gift for boys or girls!)

Make your way to the library or bookstore and add this lesser-known Peter adventure to your kiddo's picture book stack ASAP. You'll be whistling too, in no time flat!

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats, published by Viking

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