Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Jungle Book, by Alex Beard (ages 4 - 8)

We have a lot of fun with books, but occasionally we come across a book that just does not work for our kids.  I think it's interesting to look at why a book doesn't work.  I would love feedback from readers - do negative reviews help you think more clearly about books you read with your children?

I was excited to read The Jungle Grapevine.  A bookstore owner I respect enjoyed it.  The cover is lively and appealing.  But my kindergartner just didn't react to it. When a child says that a book is boring, often that means that they didn't understand it.  It's interesting to me to look more closely at why this book didn't work.
The Jungle Grapevine
by Alex Beard
NY: Abrams, 2009
ages 4 - 8
The story starts with Turtle and Bird out walking, when Turtle casually remarks, “The Watering Hole is always good for a laugh.... But lately the humor has been drying up.”  Bird is not quite sure what Turtle means by this and tells Elephant that the watering hole itself is drying up. Bird's confusion sets off a chain-reaction of miscommunication, with the Elephant telling the snake, and the snake telling the crocodile.

But the problem with this story is that most young children will not understand the abstract metaphor that sets off the animals' gossip and rumor.  In part, kindergartners and first graders don't know what "humor" is; in part, they can't imagine the abstract notion that laughter dries up.  If they cannot understand this first mistake, the rest of the book falls flat.

The pen and ink illustrations are lively and imaginative, but the story presents confusion to children. While the illustrations are aimed at a young audience, the vocabulary ("humor") is beyond this group. 

Other people have enjoyed Jungle Grapevine.  For a positive review, check Bonggamom. It has gotten mixed reviews in the library review journals.  Find Jungle Grapevine at a public library near you on WorldCat.

Please let me know if you like a more critical review such as this.

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  1. Thanks for a really honest, and explanatory, review. I have a special interest in children's fiction so I'm always interested in reviews and such. Although I often read reviews where the reviewer hasn't enjoyed the book it usually doesn't mean anything much to me because the reviewer is an adult. So it's wonderful to hear the 'why' from a child perspective. Good food for thought!

  2. I think the way you handled the review was excellent. As with Maureen, I often read reviews that are negative, but don't give any background for their reasoning. It's nice to share it the way you did, because it still leaves it open for the reader to decide if it may be good for them or their own child. Thanks for sharing and keep it up!