Tag Archives: children’s books

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.

Author of Strawberry Shortcake: Return of the Purple Pie Man, Disney’s Frozen Comic Collection, Transformers: Robots in Disguise Animated and Littlest Pet Shop: Open for Business. She’s written for IDW Publishing, Hasbro, Lion Forge, American Greetings and Scholastic, and her work has been discussed in Comics Beat and The Washington Post. Subscribe to the newsletter

Picture Book Spotlight: Small Deer’s Magic Tricks

Small Deer’s Magic Tricks by Betty Boegehold and Jacqueline Chwast
Published: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1977
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My mother loved children’s books. She wanted me to study English and write children’s books on the side, but didn’t live quite long enough to see my first children’s book published. I don’t think she would have thought any less of it for being a licensed graphic novel, as long as it wasn’t more Small Deer.

Small Deer’s Magic Tricks was one of my favorite books as a child and also the book my mother hated the most. It took me years to understand why. She didn’t hate the book, as it turned out–she hated Small Deer. Which is completely understandable, because Small Deer dishes out cold justice and walks away unscathed.

The book contains four stories, all of which present Small Deer as the smartest animal in the jungle at some other animal’s expense.

Guess who got him into this mess

Small Deer is trying to survive, of course. Tigers and crocodiles are out to eat her and she has to use her wits to get on with her day. She just doesn’t always have the most humble attitude about it.

Look at that smug bitchface

It’s not always easy to excuse Small Deer’s choices when she decides to lie to an entire river of crocodiles just to get some sun. The final story has the most questionable likely consequences when she convinces a pile of gullible bystanders to sit in a hole and wait for the end of the world.

“Your eventual death is not my concern.”

Winning through cleverness appealed to me as a child, my mother–not so much. Pick up a used copy and give it to the child of someone you’d like to annoy.

Author of Strawberry Shortcake: Return of the Purple Pie Man, Disney’s Frozen Comic Collection, Transformers: Robots in Disguise Animated and Littlest Pet Shop: Open for Business. She’s written for IDW Publishing, Hasbro, Lion Forge, American Greetings and Scholastic, and her work has been discussed in Comics Beat and The Washington Post. Subscribe to the newsletter

Picture Book Spotlight: Little Dog Laughed

Little Dog Laughed by Theodore Clymer
Published: Silver Burdett Ginn Religion, 1982
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When I was in the Washington state elementary school system, we had textbooks. I don’t know if budget constraints or educational philosophies killed them off, but these days my daughter comes home with photocopied pamphlets. The pamphlets contain one story that uses words the kids are working on for the week, so we have to them, but none of them have been nearly as effective as my books from Theodore Clymer.

During the early 1980s, the school system relied on this series to introduce kids to reading. What makes these books so successful is word repetition; students feel like real readers fast when they can read full sentences by the end of the first book. What makes them so entertaining is the variety of stories they contain, repeating characters, and mix of photographic and hand-drawn illustration.

They also introduced us to Ken.

Ken is the bespectled fumbler in all of the Clymer books who can’t get anything right. Here he is failing to get a sandwich:

To the amusement of everyone else:

Someone is pointing and laughing at Ken on almost every page:

With good reason. Here he is dropping a ball on his face:

He even struggles to throw away trash:

Ken has a future in infomercials.

Resulting in more derision:

Here’s Ken trying to read a book. By this point, I’m surprised he doesn’t drop it on his foot.

Damn, Ken. Get it together.

Author of Strawberry Shortcake: Return of the Purple Pie Man, Disney’s Frozen Comic Collection, Transformers: Robots in Disguise Animated and Littlest Pet Shop: Open for Business. She’s written for IDW Publishing, Hasbro, Lion Forge, American Greetings and Scholastic, and her work has been discussed in Comics Beat and The Washington Post. Subscribe to the newsletter