All right. That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. Could we please please PLEASE just get it over with and declare Jan Thomas some kind of national treasure / picture book genius? No, seriously people. I am not even kidding about this. I’m tired of the excuses. She killed with her debut What Will Fat Cat Sit On, slayed with A Birthday for Cow, and caused general carnage and delight with The Doghouse. I thought myself the expert of all things Thomas (Thomasian?) and then a fellow children’s librarian had the audacity to discover Rhyming Dust Bunnies before I could. The shame runs deep. Fortunately I was able to swipe her copy (hoo hoo!) and take a look at it myself. Aw man. For any parent that’s tired of the same old same old in their rhyming picture books, Rhyming Dust Bunnies is the readaloud wonder and visual stimulant that’s gonna have the kids rolling in the aisles, right alongside their parents. Once again, Thomas hits it outta the park.
Meet the rhyming dust bunnies: Ed, Ned, Ted, and Bob. As they like to say “We rhyme all the time!” On this particular day Ed starts them off with wondering “Hey! What rhymes with car?” Everyone puts in a vote except for Bob. Bob’s sort of staring in the distance and saying things like “Look!” and “Look Out!” The other bunnies are confused by Bob’s seeming inability to rhyme. Even when he says “Look out! Here comes a big scary monster with a broom!” they’re not quite catching on. Finally he screams out “Run for it!” and the troop run and hide under a dresser. However, when they attempt to restart their rhyming antics, “sat” “pat” and “rat” are completed with Bob’s timely “vacuum cleaner!” and with a mighty “Thwptt” off they go.
I handed this book to my husband after I started snorting over it (for about the fifth time) and was much pleased to find that he was just as amused by it as I was. He pointed out to me that this is one of those books where kids at different ages will catch on to what’s going on at different points. Older, savvier children are going to be on edge from the moment Bob says his first “Look!”. Younger tots might not get it until “Look Out!” or the long monologue involving the word “broom”. I did entertain the brief thought that maybe small children wouldn’t like to see the book end with the bunnies in the vacuum cleaner, but honestly it’s a pretty funny ending. The bunnies aren’t hurt, after all. Just flailing the occasional limb.
I don’t mind digital illustrations when they’re done well. And Thomas has that rare gift for synthesizing a book down to its most essential parts. It’s difficult to describe her art without using the word “goofy” over and over, but that’s what it is. There’s this weird manic energy to each of her pieces. Part of what I love about the art for this book is her characters, though. When Bob fails to rhyme the other bunnies don’t tease or chastise him. There’s this great moment when Ted puts out his hand towards Bob, sympathetically maybe, and gently reminds him that “Look!” does not rhyme with “car”. The other bunnies stand there, looking over, their mouths completely missing at this point. Now Bob, to his credit, never lets his eyes leave the big scary object in the distance. Reading this book, his eyes are focused just over the reader’s left shoulder. I think that’s mighty clever. It gives the sense that whatever Bob’s looking at, it’s probably just behind the reader (a nice psychological trick).
Thomas has always had an eye for a pure, bright color. In this book the bunnies are red, blue, green, and purple. One imagines the interesting conversations that will occur as parents try to convince their kids that under normal circumstances dust bunnies are hardly so cheery looking. Their backgrounds are, as with most Thomas books, a series of shifting tones. Danger (as defined by Bob) is indicated by a red background, which pops up more often than the other colors. Not, interestingly enough, when they’re sucked up by the vacuum cleaner (that’s blue) but otherwise it’s pretty consistent.
Check out the writing as well. Not many words, but oh the things they do. Kids (and parents) who reread this book for the fifth or sixth time may notice that while the other bunnies have rhyming names like Ed, Ned, and Ted, Bob is the only one who stands apart. And as a read aloud choice, I’ve already had a lot of fun with this one. Like What Will Fat Cat Sit On? the book directly addresses the child reader. So much so that the last image is of the bunnies asking the person reading the book for a little help. But every line has magnificent potential to it. Consider when Ned notes that Bob’s long warning “does not rhyme with ANYTHING, really.” I love the use of the word “really”. And when the bunnies hide under the dresser Ned’s “Good call, Bob” is fan-freakin-tastic. A killer line. Funny to its core.
My only question now is how long is it going to take before Jan Thomas starts writing some easy readers for kids just beginning to learn to read on their own? Because frankly, Mo Willems needs someone to challenge his Elephant and Piggie-based throne. Until that happy day arrives, we’ll have to be content with little gems like this book. It seems strange that something this simple could be this disarming and funny. Rhyming will (hopefully) never be the same again.
On shelves now.
- First off, I love this cartoon-based interview with Ms. Thomas that appeared back in January 2009.
- And fans will be pleased to know that this book isn’t a standalone title either. Behold the glory that is Here Comes the Big, Mean Dust Bunny: