Tag Archives: Polly Cameron

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

“I Can’t,” Said the Ant by Polly Cameron
Published: Scholastic, 1961
Pages: 40
Buy on Amazon

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