It's a Jungle in Here.
Deanne Lee Bingham. Illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart.
Preschool - grade 1 / Ages 3 - 6.
I love to swim.
I am a great swimmer.
I jump into the water
and stay under for a long, long time,
just like a fish.
VIBRANT AND INVENTIVE ILLUSTRATIONS will make the simple story of It's a Jungle in Here attractive to young readers. Allison is a girl who likes to see her life in terms of wild animals and their adventures -- a fish when she swims, a bear when she's brave, a lion when she's angry.
Each short section of text has a facing full-page illustration of what Allison imagines, and a smaller picture beneath the words showing what's really going on. For example, when Allison says "I can run really fast. Faster than a flash of lightning. As fast as a cheetah," the illustration below the text has her dog pulling her along behind its leash (a good image for a young child of when you have to run fast).
But the facing page shows how Allison imagines the situation. She reverses things, becoming a racing cheetah (you can tell it's still Allison because the cheetah is wearing the same clothes), while her dog is happily pulled along, clinging to the cheetah's neck. Appropriately, the facing-page fantasy illustrations are set off in bright frames, while the real-life illustrations are just dropped onto the text pages.
The text is very simple, perhaps befitting the early-reader target audience; it seems to function as the plainest possible recounting of the story told by the illustrations. And the story has the sort of grounded fantasy and wish-fulfilment that appeals to young children.
But in a book with hardly three hundred words, it's distressing that neither writer nor editors caught one glaring, if common, grammatical error, confusion of lay and lie:
Sometimes my sister looks too comfortable.Lay/lie is easy enough for kids to get wrong as it is; they don't need help like this!
So, I lay low in the grass and quietly
slither over to surprise her,
just like a snake.
My other hesitation regards the title (which is repeated as dialogue in the last line of the book). As a play on the expression "it's a jungle out there," it's cute, but both the expression and the joke will need explaining to most four- or five-year-olds. Of course, it also has a more literal meaning that is clear enough: the illustration on the last page reveals that Allison's fantasies are based on the real, stuffed, and toy animals that live in the bedroom she shares with her sister.
An appealing premise, and clever and attractive illustrations, but there are some problems with the simple text.
Recommended with reservations.
Diane Fitzgerald is an elementary-school teacher in Saskatoon.
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