Picture Book Spotlight: Fish and Not Fish

Fish and Not Fish by Theodore Clymer
Published: Scholastic, 1982
Pages: 64
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We’re back with another book by Theodore Clymer, the follow-up to Little Dog Laughed for Level 3. The third reader level is a thicker book, once again alternating photographs with illustrations. The location shots in this volume are credited to Ocean World, a private aquarium in Crescent City, California that was originally a Seattle barge (no, really). The aquarium and entertainment complex is still in operation and has just made my list of quirky road stops to visit.

Thanks, Ocean World!

There are a series of illustrators listed, but the featured story is a version of “The Hen and the Bread” by James Marshall. Marshall was the illustrator for one of my favorite books, Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard, in case the style looks familiar. Marshall spent most of his childhood in my hometown, Beaumont, Texas, and once said,

“Beaumont is deep south and swampy and I hated it. I knew I would die if I stayed there so I diligently studied the viola, and eventually won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory in Boston.”

I also recall worrying I’d die there, so we’re basically twinsies.

Master of the side-eye.

Since this is a Clymer book, we’re also reintroduced to Ken, the boy who can’t do anything right. When first we see him, Ken can’t figure out if he should eat bait or not.

Don’t eat bait, Ken.

Here he is failing to feed a dolphin:

Point and laugh, kids. That’s why he’s here.

Twisting himself into a loom:

He BEGGED for the chance to screw this up…

And picking up a bowl of flour and shoving it in his helpless face:

Dammit, Ken.

Fish and Not Fish picks up where the last book left off and adds punctuation, dialog tags and a few new vocabulary words. The baking story was especially helpful during the last half of my daughter’s Kindergarten year when we were learning the rule “E makes the vowel say it’s name.” Highly recommended for beginning readers.

Make a Unicorn with the 4Cats Arts Studio

One of the booths that really drew our attention at the Vancouver Christmas Market was run by the local 4Cats Arts Studio. With multiple locations in the Vancouver area, 4Cats offers painting, polymer sculpting and oven-baked clay workshops for adults, children and families. Their booth at the market offered a wide array of polymer characters you can sculpt yourself, with enough clay inside to make them and detailed instructions.

We bought our daughter a kit for Christmas so she could make her own unicorn. Her artistic inclinations come from her father and since we knew she’d want to preserve her sculpt forever, we also got her the glass dome sold separately. We paid $14.99 Canadian for the kit and the additional dome brought the price up to about $20.

As soon as she opened her Christmas present she wanted to make it, but I managed to put her off for a few days because I knew this build would be a bit of a time commitment. From start to finish, we were ready to bake our unicorn after two hours of work. While the instructions were as detailed as promised, our version didn’t quite look like the box:

Muppet head.

This was mostly our fault, but the instructions on building the head didn’t quite match up with the picture, and the booklet encouraged us to blend in the legs when we might have been better off showing more separation.

The baking instructions were in Celsius but after converting that to Fahrenheit, we baked our figure at 250 degrees for 1.5 hours. To my relief, the horn didn’t fall off.

Unfortunately, we planned badly and the unicorn didn’t fit inside the display dome. The box came with plenty of extra clay, however, so my daughter got creative and made a cat.

One of the ears didn’t make it. He seems a little put out about it.

My daughter didn’t end up with perfect creations her first time out, but she learned a lot about using and blending polymer clay. She’s already asking for more colors and can’t wait to try again.

4Cats no longer offers these kits on their website, but they are offering a long list of upcoming workshops where you can make a similar item in-person. Perhaps they’ll make another appearance at next year’s Christmas market so we can try a different animal.

Picture Book Spotlight: “I Can’t,” Said the Ant

“I Can’t,” Said the Ant by Polly Cameron
Published: Scholastic, 1961
Pages: 40
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It’s a tragedy that I have to work this hard to dig up a biography for an illustrator of nine children’s books, author of seven, but so it was with Polly Cameron. I found this snippet attached to a collection of her work at the Lilly Library in Indiana:

Artist and children’s author, Polly Cameron, 1928-2000, was born in Walnut Creek, California; attended Phoenix College in Arizona and the University of California, Santa Barbara, but left before graduating to return to Arizona were she became an advertising and display manager in Phoenix and a year later director of theatre publicity in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After traveling through Europe for three years, during which time she did editorial layout and illustration for Elle Magazine and advertising and promotional design for nightclubs, a shipping company and department stores, Cameron returned to New York and became a free-lance graphic designer. One of her design projects was for publisher Coward-McCann and while under contract there she wrote and illustrated her first children’s book The Cat Who Thought He Was a Tiger, which Coward McCann then published.

In addition to both writing and illustrating seven children’s books, Cameron also illustrated Rufus the Red-Necked Hornbill, written by Patricia Lauber (1958), and wrote The Green Machine, illustrated by Consuelo Joerns (1969). All of her works have been published by Coward-McCann and several of them were designed by her as well. She won the American Institute of Graphic Arts Award for outstanding book design for A Child’s Book of Nonsenseand “I Can’t” Said the Ant received the American Library Association Notable Book Award in 1961.

Very accomplished. Deserving of her own page, though there isn’t one, I know her best as the artist and writer behind the classic book, “I Can’t ,” Said the Ant.

In the book, a teapot falls off a shelf in the kitchen and the event is witnessed by an ant. The ant feels incapable of offering any assistance, sparking commentary from all of the appliances and the food.

I’ve used this book over and over again during my daughter’s first grade year to advance her reading skills. What makes the book so effective for that purpose is the one-sentence rhyme scheme used for the observers of the teapot’s accident. Each time my daughter is introduced to a new word, she can look at the first word or the last word, see if she recognizes it, and try to sound out a new word that rhymes.

Even the crust has something to say about this.

My daughter’s public school education concentrates on sight words and encourages flash card learning, so it’s been up to me to emphasize the application of rules regarding letter sound combinations when she runs into a word she’s never seen before. She’s reluctant to even try. The patterns encourage her to at least give it a shot, and when the resulting sentence doesn’t make sense or the rhyme is missing, she knows something went wrong.

After hearing encouragement from bread loaves to the literal kitchen sink, the ant solves the problem with a little help from his friends and a spider or two.

Mostly the spiders.

It’s a lesson in teamwork and resourcefulness, gently told. Cameron’s rubber-stamp prints use minimal color, a reflection of the 1961 print date. It’s hard to imagine a book that looks like this getting published today, but the illustrations are both skillful and charming.

Used paperbacks are available on Amazon.