Sunday, March 25, 2012

Here's a Little Chicken: Tilly and Friends, by Polly Dunbar

One of my favorite books on the planet is Here's a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, compiled by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, and illustrated by Polly Dunbar. I turn to this book again and again for preschool storytime selections and poems for very young children on Poem in Your Pocket Day (Thursday, April 26th, 2012) or, for that matter, any old day. While the poems are brilliantly selected by Yolen and Peters, it's the illustrations in this satisfyingly big, square, lush book that make me grin with glee and shake my head in awe. It's those Polly Dunbar illustrations that turn each poem into a perfect, delightful treasure for a young child.

So, I was already hooked on Polly Dunbar's work when library patron and children's book author/illustrator, Matt Phelan (see my recent interview with Matt here), recommended that I look into ordering books from Dunbar's Tilly and Friends series. I just got the first few and I am thrilled to be adding them to our collection. Each book in the 6-volume series begins with, "Tilly and her friends all live together in a little yellow house...," and when the reader turns the page, there is a picture of the yellow house with its multi-colored, multi-shaped windows, its striped front steps and checkerboard roof, and its bright red door with a heart above it. Tilly the girl and her friends Hector the pig, Tumpty the elephant, Tiptoe the bunny, Doodle the crocodile, and Pru the hen, are included in this opening house illustration, providing clues about, and setting the tone for, the story to come.

Each story is pitch-perfect, capturing the joys, interests, and anxieties of very young children and striking just the right balance between comforting sweetness and raucous silliness. In Where's Tumpty, Tilly's elephant friend tries to hide, as so many human 3-year-olds have done, by closing his eyes VERY tightly. When he finds that his friends can still see him he tries hiding under a box that fits him like a hat, behind a scrawny plant that looks like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, and by turning himself upside down. Still, his friends can see him, and the harder he tries, the harder they laugh at his ridiculously unsuccessful efforts. But when he storms off amidst all that laughter, the friends really can't find him, and a they decide to search the house. Just as they are beginning to despair and consoling themselves with cookies, Tumpty pops up from behind the couch, is greeted with love and praise and joyful relief, and finishes the rest of the cookies surrounded by his true chums.

There is inspired visual humor throughout all the stories. One of my favorite examples is in the final two-page spread of Where's Tumpty when all of the friends have piled on the couch to express their love for Tumpty, and Pru the chicken is smooshed between Tumpty and Doodle, looking right out at the reader with a horrified expression on her heavily made-up face. Extra points 'cause she's a chicken.

    The other two titles I've added to the collection are Hello, Tilly and Happy Hector, both of which are splendid. I'm completely taken with the series, and plan to order the other three as soon as possible. An animated television series based on the books has been commissioned by the BBC's CBeebies, and is being produced as we speak by Ireland's JAM Media for a 2012 release. Check out the lovely trailer here.

Also written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, and also another one of my favorite books on the planet, is Penguin, discussed beautifully here by Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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