Maybe I should start out by saying that Mem Fox is a literacy genius. She has been writing books for years - such great ones as Time for Bed, Koala Lou, and Where is the Green Sheep?. All of these books put the principles into play that she discusses in her book Reading Magic: Why Re.ading Aloud to our Children Will Change their Lives Forever. I saw her speak about literacy at the Glendale Public Library a few years ago, and she was wise and amazing. Fox has studied literacy and pre-literacy for many years, and she has come up with a natural, fun way to introduce concepts to children.
Yoo-hoo, Ladybug! is her latest, and is a collaboration with Laura Ljungkvist. The book is a very simple look-and-find book. On each page, the narrator calls "Yoo-hoo, Ladybug! Where are you?" Then the narrator announces "There you are..." and uses some rhyming text to help the viewer find the ladybug in the illustrations. The first illustration is a wide-angle shot. There is plenty to look at - although Ljungkvist includes many of the same toys on each page, they are in new places and positions each time. The first illustration in the book is of a filled bathtub, with toys galore. In the tub is a long-legged giraffe, a fish, a rapidly sinking VW bug, and the ubiquitous rubber duckie. When you peer at the duck closely, you can see the ladybug's side just behind the duck. The text continues "..afloat in the bath with Duck and Giraffe!"
This is definitely a first look-and-find book, and it suited almost 5-year-old Gloria perfectly. A few weeks ago, we checked out Can You See What I see: Out of this World, and Frances loved it, but Gloria found it difficult and a little frustrating. There were too many things to find on each page, and they weren't easy enough for Gloria to spot without prompting. This book, though, is very different. The first illustration in each set, as I mentioned, is wide-angle. It lets readers pore over the illustration, looking for Ladybug. But it's not overwhelming. The lines are simple and clear, to help guide the reader's eye. There are plenty of patterns and textures in each illustration, but they soothe the eye instead of distracting. And if the reader doesn't spot Ladybug on their first try, they can always turn the page to see where she is. She's the focus of a spot illustration on the next page, which allows the reader to train their eye on where she is. They can flip back and locate her more effectively in the bigger illustration if they have trouble.
Several pre-literacy skills are used successfully here. Fox rhymes the text so new readers can predict what animals Ladybug is hiding near. For instance, in another illustration, the reader finds Ladybug "tucked in a box with Rabbit and Fox". They can guess who she might be near in the bigger illustration. The repetitive text throughout the book also helps new readers feel in control of what is happening. They know that the first page will include the narrator calling for Ladybug and they can call for here as well. There has been a lot of enthusiastic hollering for Ladybug in my house lately!
One of the things Ljungkvist contributes to this is a remarkably detailed, yet simple, set of toys. Each illustration contains the same toys, just set up differently. That way readers don't have to spend a lot of time identifying the individual objects once they've seen them. If they spend a lot of time looking at the first illustration of Ladybug hiding in the bath, they'll be able to see the boats, ball, car, and giraffe in the other illustrations. Even better, this technique rewards repeated viewings. It's only after you stop searching so intently for Ladybug that you can appreciate the bee buzzing wildly, or the positioning of the robot (usually teetering almost out of control).
The toys also add to a retro feel for this book - there are no Polly Pockets or Squinkies here. There are modern cars (a Volvo station wagon for one), but even those feel antique. Ljungkvist's digital illustrations are mostly in a candy-colored palette, and some pieces look collaged, like the black and white chicken. It adds up to a feast for our eyes. The animals all express personality through their charming faces, too. There are blocks in each illustration to help spell out Ladybug's name, again emphasizing the spelling of her name to readers.
This book is a lot of fun, but it also helps start young children on the road to more successful seek-and-find books. Gloria can read this one all by herself now, and we'll be sorry to return it to the library. But I'm sure another family will love Ladybug as much as we have. Now I'm off to do more chores... goodbye, weekend!
Yoo-hoo, Ladybug! Mem Fox; illustrated by Laura Ljungkvist. Beach Lane: Simon & Schuster, 2013. (borrowed from the library)
Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children will Change their Lives Forever. Mem Fox. Harcourt, 2001. (personal collection)
Can You See What I See?: Out of this World. Walter Wick. Cartwheel Books, 2013. (borrowed from the library)