They say that humor is subjective. They might as well just go and say the same thing for what folks find cute. What positively reduces one person to a pile of babbling goo might strike another as abominably saccharine. There is no accounting for taste. Personally, I have a low “awww” threshold. Cute, for me, has to go beyond long eyelashes and oversized heads. You’ve gotta have some substance to your adorableness or you’ll just disappear in the midst of all the ootsy-cutesy picture book fare churned out each and every season. Aaron Zenz, I suspect, knows this. He can wrassle up a cutie pie baby animal with his colored pencils better than most folks I know, but he also knows that you need a reason for displaying those balls of big-eyed fluff. Enter, Chuckling Ducklings. Part catchy rhyme, part baby animal nomenclature, part roly-poly balls of fur, Zenz deftly hones a book that could reasonably be called a triple threat. It’s cute imbued with purpose.
It starts off innocuously enough. “Here’s a puppy. There’s a kitten. A baby bunny is what I am. A yawning fawn and chuckling ducklings. Cub, cub, cub, cub, piglet, lamb.” By this point you’ve seen a fair number of baby animals cavorting about the place, but it’s possible you haven’t quite gotten the gist of the book yet. That’s when Zenz tightens the screws. Suddenly we’re looking at colts, fillies, and caterpillars. The book, it turns out, is a clever rhyming scheme of the names we give different kinds of baby animals. From poults to porcupettes the animals are named, interact, and at the end we are presented with a guide to all the animals and what their grown-up names will be.
The book reminded me a bit of that supremely hip Matthew Porter title Calling All Animals that came out a year or so ago. Like Zenz, Porter found that a good way of displaying animals with a common purpose is to find something informative that will intrigue both parents and kids. In Porter’s case, he decided to go for collective names (a pride of lions, a charm of goldfinches, etc.). To my surprise I discovered that there really isn’t a term for baby animal names. Or, if there is, it is relatively unknown to the gawking public folks like myself. Whatever it may be called, Zenz is sneaky with revealing that this is what the book’s all about. You think you’re just reading some everyday baby animal book and then WHAMMO! He hits you upside the head with a “Cub, Cub, Cub, Cub” sequence of raccoon, bear, panda, and tiger. Even then, you would be forgiven for thinking that he’s just going to stick with the usual. That is, until you start reading about a “cygnet”, an “eyas”, a “poult”, and a “squab” all on the same two-page spread. By the time the puggles and the leveret (a new one on me) arrive, the book has officially crossed over from mere amusement to interesting and informative. The little guide at the back pairing baby animals with their grown-up names will serve as a lifesaver for those parents who have no idea what an eyas even is (hint: it’s a baby hawk). My one objection to the book is that Zenz doesn’t include the human kid who appears earlier in the book alongside all the animals. When I was a child I remember having this eye-opening moment when I realized that humans were animals. Such a moment wouldn’t have been out of place in Chuckling Ducklings.
It took me a while to figure out exactly what kind of medium Zenz was working in, since the one it looked like didn’t make sense. I mean, it kinda resembled colored pencils, but come on. Seriously. Colored pencils NEVER look like this. I mean, the lines are so crisp you could cut yourself on them. Circles, like the heads of polliwogs, have a Jeff Kinney-esque spherical beauty. Yet a glance, and then a reglance at the publication page of the book confirms it. Believe it or not, Zenz is a colored pencil man. I can only assume that his pencil sharpener can be heard howling at all times of day and night, because it’s not just that the linework is perfect in its precision, but the shading is worth a gander as well.
Oh. And it’s cute. Did I mention it was cute? It’s super cute. I mean, you have to be made of pretty tough stuff to resist baby ducks. But as I say, cute is subjective. One man’s aww is another man’s eauughhh!!!! For me, this book hits on the right levels. The merely sweet is now serving a higher call. There are other books that cover this subject matter, of course. Pam Munoz Ryan’s A Pinky is a Baby Mouse and Other Baby Animal Names comes to mind, as does Eric Carle’s classic Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too? Still and all, Zenz’s book will be useful to those who wish to teach on the sly. It hides its learning behind downy feathers and beaming beaks. Definitely more than meets the eye.
On shelves now.
Source: Final hardcover copy sent from author for review.
Other Blog Reviews: The Children’s Nook
- Aaron talks about where he got the idea for the book here.
- There’s also a very funny “review” of this book over on Aaron’s Boogie Woogie blog where his kids point out, amongst many things, how incredibly ugly baby pigeons really are.
- He was also featured over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.