Have you ever noticed that many of the best picture books for children aged zero to five tend to involve sheep? Why is this? What is it about sheep that make them ideal receptacles of authorial wit and wisdom? Is it their woolly coats? Their sly sweet faces? Their remarkably loud baas? Whatever the case, I've had the pleasure of reading smartly written sheep books that vary from "Sheep In a Jeep" by Nancy Shaw to this more recent Mem Fox creation, "Where is the Green Sheep". Helped in no small part by newcomer Judy Horacek, the book is a deft examination of various sheeplike and unsheeplike activities. It's a surprisingly charming and winning little book that's certain to earn the undivided love and attention of ankle biters worldwide.
Using remarkably simple words, the book follows various sheep through their day. We see sheep of many colors and sheep taking baths. We have sheep up and we have sheep down. There are band sheep, wind sheep, near and far sheep. Just about any kind of sheep you can think of, this book's got `em. Still, one question keeps popping up throughout the pages. Where is the green sheep? By the end, we discover the mysterious green sheep's location and exactly what it is doing. It's an oddly satisfying way to end the tale and so we do.
Mem Fox incites an odd following of rabid pro-Fox fans everywhere. People cannot get enough of this woman. I've never completely fallen under the Fox spell myself, but with this book I'm beginning to see her charms. Though the story would be far less interesting if it was not accompanied by Judy Horacek's illustrations (more on that later), it's still a bouncy flouncy flurry of fun. In fact after all the crazy sheep antics there are two blank pages containing these words at the story's close. "What IS that green sheep? Turn the page quietly - let's take a peep...". And then you see the book's namesake, "fast asleep" under a lovely green bush. The whole book rhymes beautifully, scanning perfectly on every page. So to finish with this sweet quiet ending... well it does the heart good.
But the real star of this show is Judy Horacek. An Australian who's bookflap merely refers to her credits as having, "written and illustrate(d) books of her own", she has burst onto the children's publishing scene with a whiz and a bang. Her style is best summarized as deceptively simple. In truth, it mostly consists of sheep, scenes, and actions drawn with a black Rotring Isograph pen and colored in with various shaded and colorful watercolors. This sounds dull. It is not. Horacek's sheep have somehow been imbued with remarkable jolts of personality and joy. Whether you're watching the antics of the rain sheep dancing about a lamppost or the car sheep fixing its engine, something about these animals is bloody fascinating. But the moment in the book where these wooly stars really got me was the section that discusses near and far. You turn the page and find yourself nose to furry nose with a sheep viewing you intently. The two little black spots that make up its eyes bore into yours. And on the next page is a far sheep. Possibly as small as Horacek's thick tipped pen could draw. It doesn't matter what these lollygagging lambs are doing. Every step they take is spellbinding.
So there you have it. A great book for children that are just beginning to read. And trust me, a predilection towards sheep is not required to enjoy this book. It's just one of those rare tales that adults will enjoy reading over and over and over and that kids will find equally enjoyable that many times. It's not one of those grand works of preschool literature, but it's a great book. Just give it a glance. As sheep books go, it's a keeper indeed.
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