Maybe it’s the natural tendency among young boys* to explore their world through playful fighting, but the idea of pitting two of anything (cats, robots, cars) against one another thrills our kid. He also likes saying the word aloud and energetically, “VER-SSSUS” just, well, because. When he first fixated on “versus” as a word fetish, it came out adorably as “ver-TH-us,” but now we pronounce it correctly every time. Awww… he’s growing up.
Given Tater’s love of that word and the fact that we read several books a day, I figured it was time to add Chris Barton‘s Shark vs. Train volume to our book collection. I knew Chris (@bartography) back in high school and have reconnected with him accidentally in the last year, so I went all out and paid full-price. (You’re welcome, Chris.)
When the book first arrived, Tater Tot didn’t seem particularly interested. He noticed the “vs.” right away, naturally. But he was sort of ho-hum. Then I showed him the book’s trailer on YouTube.com. He’s hooked. Since we received the book earlier in the week, I think I’ve read it on average 4 times daily.
As a parent, I’m hooked on it, too. Reading to a child is fun, but it turns exciting when an author and illustrator (in this case, the immensely talented Tom Lichtenheld) create a work that explodes the adult reader’s expectation of what a children’s book “should” be. One doesn’t so much read this book as “experience” it, turning it to view pictures optimally and working with one’s child to start the narrative on the early pages where there is no text, just images of two little boys at play who engage their imaginations–and the title characters–in that dynamic way that kids do. Pop culture references abound–the Jaws theme, the SNL “Candygram!” land shark, and not one but TWO references to famous Happy Days episodes. I’m pretty sure that was all intentional–or maybe my own imagination has gotten away with me?
Tater certainly has found creative inspiration from Shark vs. Train. On Wednesday, he made his first fan art starring, yup, a grinning shark and an impressive train. As you might expect, he also made a giant “VS.” on the page, too. Given that our little fella draws images and letters all day long on his own (Thanks, Doodlepro!), I wouldn’t be too surprised if he makes a stab at creating his own book some day. I hope it’s as cleverly written and vibrantly illustrated as our current favorite. We’ll see.
FIVE of FIVE Stars
Shark vs. Train Text by Chris Barton. Illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) Ages 4-8. $16.99 list price.
Other reviews of the book can be found here.
* Many girls do this, too–and maybe some boys don’t (temperament is likely a bigger factor), but in the context of reviewing a book “starring” boys, I’m sticking with what I know personally and from direct observation in my tiny world.