Friday, June 17, 2005

Green sheep

Where Is the Green Sheep?, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek.

I'm not familiar with any of Mem Fox's other children's books, but her interest in teaching and promoting literacy (as expressed on her website) is in full evidence in the fine crafting of this sheepish little tale.

We love this book!

Illustrations © 2004 Judy Horacek. Posted by Hello

(Compare the covers of the US and Australian editions.)

Helena received this book as a gift about a month ago. While it would've entertained and captivated her from birth, I'm certain it will be a staple to be read in various ways and on different levels for years still to come.

[Warning: spoilers ahead.]

Helena is developing a fine sense of intertextuality. At 32 pages, the simplicity of this book, and the assumed brief time it takes to read it, is deceptive.

Blue sheep and red sheep recall both black sheep (Have you any wool?) and brown bear (What do you see?). We follow the tangents.

Just a few pages in, bed sheep provides a Borgesian touch to our reading experience. Aside from the fact that bed sheep is a sheep and Helena is a little girl, our bedroom scenes are near identical. What book is bed sheep reading?

A host of varied creatures peers from the windows of train sheep's train, not so exotic or endangered as Burningham's menagerie, but each on his own journey to an unknown destination.

Moon sheep never fails to inspire a few bars of Au clair de la lune. It is striking that moon sheep is on the moon, in contrast to the many of our other books featuring a cow over the moon. Different still from kitten's moon, which is full, whereas this is a crescent — a partial moon, but one that is "owned," not merely aspired to.

Similarly star sheep gives us pause. Helena sings a little Mozart, but is well aware that star sheep's star is not so little and with no worlds in sight of it. Could this star possibly be caught?

Eventually we find green sheep, asleep. I expect a straight reading of this book has a deliberately sleep-inducing lilt; it asks us to turn the page quietly, intoning the subliminal suggestion, "Sleeeep, little one. Sleep." We should find both green sheep and tot asleep at the end.

Not so in this household. Helena is invigorated, and with a resounding blast of a pop-cultural reference invokes Joe, singing "Wake up, Green Sheep, wake up!"

Now that we know how the book ends, Helena insists we begin each reading in hushed tones, so as not to disturb Green Sheep until it's time.

Helena "reads" the book back to me, in French, a remarkably fluid and accurate translation. (Perhaps we could get a contract for publication?)

Each reading provides fresh insight into the backstory of the minor characters such as train escargot and hillside-picknicker sheep.


The book has already been successfully adapted for the stage.

Where Is the Green Sheep? is getting constant play these days, resting only for very short bits of time on the shelf. "Ssshhhh! Green Sheep fait do-do..."


Suzanne said...

Mem Fox's It's Time for Bed is one of my favorite kids' books. Its gentle cadence, beautiful illustrations, and calm tone are just perfect for a bedtime story.

Michele said...

Oh how wonderful. I have not heard of Mem Fox. Shame on me. Not having a child is, of course, an excuse, but not a good one.

This post has made me want this book. However, I want the Australian version, I prefer that cover.