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This review is from: The Day the Babies Crawled Away (Hardcover)
There is no justice in the world. None at all. Ladies and gentlemen I direct your attention this evening to "The Day the Babies Crawled Away". Now this is a tale told entirely in silhouette. It is accomplished and witty, ending with a touch of sentiment that brings an actual honest-to-goodness tear to the eye. And yet what did author Peggy Rathmann win the Caldecott Award for? For the phenomenally less deserving and trite, "Officer Buckle and Gloria". A fine book, but not even a hair close to the brilliance of this, her latest text.
The book begins in the early morning. A fair is being set up next to a group of houses. The narration speaks to the reader.
"Remember the day
The babies crawled away?"
"Remember the way
You tried to save the day?"
So we follow our protagonist, a boy in a fireman's helmet as he frantically follows five fast moving babies. The boy follows them from the woods, to the swamps, into caves and on ledges. The babies find themselves in perilous situations, and the intrepid young boy must find a way to save them all and get them back home safe and sound. When he returns to the fairgrounds, babies in tow, the grown-ups cheer him soundly. That night, boy and babies fall asleep in their parents' arms after a long and exhausting day.
It sounds cutesy, no question, and it isn't. Not in the least. First of all, technically it's remarkably adept. The silhouettes are so detailed and delicate that you find yourself discovering all sorts of tiny details on every page. Is that Officer Buckle and Gloria on the title page? Is the trophy given to the boy at the end topped with a pie? And how did Rathmann draw an exploding water balloon so well in silhouette? Looking at the babies, you can see that each one is differently drawn. There's the bonnet baby, the baby with one curl, the cornrows baby, the dredlocks baby, and the smallest baby of all that spends almost all of this book upside down. Rathmann uses the silhouette technique to her own advantage at critical times. When the babies collapse as a sleepy pile on top of their boy rescuer, the viewer can only make out a hand here, a heel there, and a wild assortment of perching birds, butterflies, and frogs. As for the text, it really does give credit where credit is due. The boy has saved the babies and as a reward we are shown a scene that touched me deeply. The boy sits on his mother's lap in the fading evening light. His fireman's hatted head is tipped gently towards his mama who is kissing him sweetly. In her hair, a butterly perches and the book says, "You told me your story, I brewed you some tea, then you fell fast asleep in a small pile on me" It's enough to break your heart.
And I haven't even gushed to you about the shifting colors of the day from early morning to the bright light of noon, and eventually the cool colors of twilight. For a book that deals up a healthy heaping of black, this is one of the most colorful (and lovely) picture books out there today. There's something about a story in which a toddler can be the ultimate hero that appeals deeply to children. The adults (incapacitated by a pie-eating contest) are useless here and it is up to a small boy to save the day. Rathmann had always struck me as the poor man's Steven Kellogg until now. With "The Day the Babies Crawled Away", I think she's really come into her own. It is perhaps the most charming toddler empowerment book I have ever seen. More importantly, it is simultaneously witty and beautiful. With so few books managing to be either one or the other, we should be careful to praise the few (like this one) that are both.