Take a Master’s level Children’s Literature class and there are two words that you immediately remove from your vocabulary – NICE and CUTE. After 20 years of no usage, I decided to try out "nice" again. This was triggered in great part by David Ezra Stein’s newest creation The Nice Book. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. ISBN 978-0-399-25050-7, $14.99)
David’s earlier title Leaves impressed me greatly with its simplicity and honesty in illustration. That means I have set some pretty high standards. Can David Ezra Stein produce another hit title for our youngest readers? Preschoolers can be very picky and discerning. Can you hook them, keep them turning the pages, and get them to interact with the title?
YES, readers. I have to say The Nice Book is surprising. It begins with the simplest of illustrations and single words on each page. But before you know it, you’re caught up in these pages of animals demonstrating how to behave towards others – how to BE NICE TO EACH OTHER.
The illustrations are deceptive. What at first looks like a casual swirl of a fingertip dipped in paint, turns out to be carefully planned strokes that convey motion and emotion. Careful inkings add to the details that make these characters whimsical yet not icky-sweet. While reading this to little ones, every boy I read this to had to act out these pages:
|but don’t stomp flat.|
|…well, maybe a little.|
(David, could I please ask you to specifically tell them NOT to tickle the babysitter in your next book? My ribs still hurt from giggling. Also, could you put in a warning that there should be a maximum number of READS-IN-A-ROW? I never thought I’d get tired of hearing them chime along "Be Nice! The end. Read it AGAIN." but those preschoolers seem to find those words hidden in the back.)
The design of the text adds to the delight of the Nice Book. There is a wide variety of fonts, sizes, and styles of text. Creative parents can help preschoolers identify the letters in their many formats. One of the ways parents can interact on a higher level is to read some of the adjective-noun combinations spread over the end-pages. Phrases like Benevolent Bunnies, Harmonious Horses, and Amiable Alligators will definitely increase the oral vocabularies of our eager listeners.
Jules and Eisha (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) interviewed David back in October. I’m always impressed at what those 7-Imp’s do. While I admit that Leaves is still my favorite Stein for now, The Nice Book has definitely left a warm, fuzzy feeling. Now that’s what I call nice.