14:14 PB ELEMENT Blog Review: RHYME – Looking at I and You and Don’t Forget Who by Brian Cleary
I thought I would have to depart from reviewing only non-fiction books for the 14:14 Picture Book Element Review Challenge, but thankfully there was one set on the shelf published just within the time-frame. I and You and Don’t Forget Who is a part of a set of picture books by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Brian Gable, that teach parts of speech.
It feels odd to me to consider this a ‘non-fiction’ title because in general I think of non-fiction in terms of science, nature, and history. But it qualifies as non-fiction, even though it’s almost like a textbook that kids wouldn’t recognize as a textbook.
I have this title on pronouns, another on adverbs, and yet another on prepositions. The ‘pun-like’ motto in the upper right corner of each cover states that ‘Words Are CATegorical.” And sure enough, cats are the characters who, in scene to scene, and Brian Cleary has used them in clever text to demonstrate humorous situations in which various uses, meanings, and purposes of pronouns are made clear. Brian Gable’s whimsical multi-colored cats are comical, expressive, and fun. The collaboration on this book must have been fun.
What makes this a ‘sneaky textbook’ however is the use of a picture book story element you don’t often seen in instructive text: rhyme. The title betrays that as a rhyming title, and each spread, hosted by some of the silliest cats you’ll ever see, is full of rhyme describing pronouns.
The first spread starts out straightforwardly, with cats on stage, cats in a marching band, and a little bit of cat-in-the-mirror grooming going on:
“He is a pronoun. She is a pronoun. Even lil’ ol’ me is a pronoun.
“So is I. So is you, whom, and they and we and who.”
Each pronoun, of course, is printed in color. The text in this book is in a font that is whimsical, matching the comical cats. But the strength of the text is in the rhyme and meter, which to me seems well done. The rhythm isn’t sing-song, and varied enough from one spread to another so that meaning isn’t trumped by the rhyme element.
While the text is certainly simple, the conceptual aspect of the statements, definitions, and uses of pronouns limit this book to better readers, perhaps in third through fifth grades. A teacher at any level could read and explain each spread and the corresponding definitions to younger children, when they are ready to grasp the concepts of parts-of-speech. Why, because the rhyme adds interest to the concept.
The rhyme element lends the concepts to possible memorization by children, and as a retired educator I know the value of memorized rhymes and ditties and songs to learning—from language (“I before E except after C”) to math to history (“Columbus crossed the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two.”).
Which leads to the whole point about using rhyme in children’s books, especially picture books: is it useful? That’s a question I must ask myself, and if you’ve read very many of my posts, you probably know I lean toward poetic writing. I write adult and children’s poems, and many of my picture book ideas are sparked by a witty little two-line rhyme. So the question is particularly important for me.
Is rhyming for this story purposeful? Does it enhance the story? Does it detract from something more meaningful? Is character, or theme, plot, or the conflict compromised by rhyme?
Do you write in rhyme, and how does it affect your story?
Share if you dare. (Sorry…couldn’t resist on that one…)