professornana (professornana) wrote,

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cute is a four letter word

Having worked with children's books for decades, one of the pet peeves many of us have is the use of the word "cute" to describe a book or story. CUTE is one of those deceptive words. On the surface, it sounds as though a compliment is being bestowed. Underneath it all, however, there is a sense of condescension. Isn't it CUTE somehow includes a parenthetical addendum like isn't it CUTE (for someone who does not know there is better out there). The books I include here would be dismissed by those outside the profession as CUTE. I think there is much more than meets the eye. They are not cute, they are deceptively simple on the surface but multi-layered, the type of book where repeated reading and viewing reveals more and more.

JACK AND THE BOX by Art Spiegelman (Toon Books, 2008) should stand alongside WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in terms of the incredible artwork that tells such an interesting story and moves beyond the boundaries of a picture book in doing so. Jack receives a box from his parents with a gift, a jack-in-the-box, actually a Zach-in-the-box. Spiegelman uses simple lines to indicate movement, simple lines to convey emotions, simple lines to show the pandemonium and calm, too. Add to that his use of color, of design, of perspective, and more and you can see the genius at work for very young readers.

OMG, talk about a trio that brings so much to the early reader: Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile combine talents for BINK AND OLLIE (Candlewick, September 2010). Bink and Ollie are best friends. They enjoy roller-skating, pancakes, and peanut butter sandwiches. In three short stories, we learn about their special relationship. Fucile (LET'S DO NOTHING) perfectly captures the quirky, lovable characters. The text, while simple, conveys volumes about Bink and Gollie and their likes (Bink loves colorful socks, Gollie not so much), their thoughts and feelings, even their respect for each other.

Yes, to call these books CUTE is to do them a tremendous disservice. Let's save CUTE for kittens and aim higher for words to adequately describe these books.
Tags: young readers
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