Little Pink Dog Books, 2018
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95
Johnny was very proud of his magnificent, splendiferous, long, red beard and he spent many hours grooming it and making sure it was perfect. He washed it and combed it every day, and each day he walked over the hill and back again so he could enjoy the feeling of the cool breeze blowing through it, or it keeping him warm on cold, foggy days.
On one cold winter morning Johnny met a twitchy little mouse on his walk and when he asked it what was wrong, the mouse told him its home was too cold and it would freeze when the snow came. So Johnny invited the mouse to his house for the winter and soon the mouse was snuggled up in his wondrous beard. Then he met a jittery rabbit who had the same problem so Johnny offered the same solution. And then he met a shivering raven… and a family of hedgehogs…
While the animals were all snug and warm, Johnny’s beard was tangled and it stabbed and pecked and tickled and poked. What is he to do?
This is a charming, funny story that will have little ones imagining all the sorts of things that could have taken up residence in Johnny’s beard, while enjoying the descriptive language that bring both the beard and its residents to life. Katrin’s interpretation of the beard as so long and so thick and so red just adds to the appeal, setting up an opportunity for little listeners to describe the beards of those they know.
However, it reminded me of the Edward Lear poem There was an old man with a beard and thus, a natural way to introduce little ones to his fun poetry. (He, himself, seems to have sported s splendiferous beard.) What fun it could be to illustrate this poem as a group, or consider what Australian bird could have nested in it, while learning about rhythm as they try to fit the words in to maintain the beat. As well as learning the format of the limerick, there is also scope to explore rhyme beyond the familiar device of word families and examine all the combinations that could rhyme with beard such as feared, jeered, weird, scared, laird, paired and so on. Young children love to explore language this way and have something interesting to contribute to the dinner-time conversation.
Given that many of his other poems, like The Owl and the Pussycat and The Jumblies also inspire mind-pictures not only is there scope for lots of artwork but they are the perfect bridge between nursery rhymes that are familiar to the children and more ‘serious’ poetry within a natural context. Enjoying the nuances of our language through a new medium as a natural extension of what they already know and love seems to be a win-win for me!
So what seems like just a fun story with bright pictures could lead to so much more and for that, this deserves a place in your collection and promotion to your teaching colleagues.