Incredibly, summer has arrived. All of a sudden, we went from school day wake-ups, which were always a struggle and sometimes involved tears, to happy smiles, shorts, and warm mornings. Yet here in Montana, snow is never far from our minds. When we visited the library recently, I spied Snow Day! on the shelf and we checked it out. I liked the format so much that we placed Rainy Day! on hold so I could write about them both. There is a third title in the series (Beach Day!), but our library didn't have that one. These are oldies but goodies - books that are fun no matter the season.
Snow Day! begins with an alligator named Sam who calls his friends (Pam, Will and Jill) to tell them it has snowed overnight. They are all so excited that the four speed through getting dressed to go outside and sled. When Sam, Pam, Will and Jill meet up in the thick white powder, they realize they can't possibly sled until they have their protective gear on - goggles and helmets for everyone! Now that they are all geared up, they are ready to sled. Or are they? There is one important thing they've forgotten - it's a school day!! The alligators rush back inside and make the call to cancel school. They are the principals, after all!! Now the sledding can begin!
In Rainy Day!, the morning doesn't begin quite so excitedly. It's another rainy day and the four friends are all cooped up inside, as bored as can be. They've already done all the fun indoor stuff, but the rain hasn't let up. The alligators decide to take their boredom and bad moods outside to play in the rain. Again, they put on their protective gear - boots, umbrellas, hats and coats and head outside. As the rain pours down and the fog grows thicker, the group becomes lost. What emerges from that soupy fog? Among other things, they find a pirate ship. a monster face, and a big, furry dog. And they find a place to chase the rainy day blues away - the library!
What I love about these two titles is Lakin's way of telling a story in very few words. As we all know from hearing Dr. Seuss's tales of writing The Cat in the Hat, it is very tricky to create an interesting story with a controlled vocabulary. Both of these titles use just a few phrases, in rhyming combinations, to convey the story. In Rainy Day!, as they try to negotiate the cloudy weather, the car full of friends drives cautiously along: "They took a left. They took a right. A pirate ship came into sight." In Snow Day! as the alligators decide where they should sled, the text reads "'The yard?', said Sam. 'The walk?', said Pam. 'The drive?', said Will. 'The hill?', said Jill." It is constructed carefully, so that Lakin uses the minimum amount of words possible while still expressing the meaning. There also isn't very much narration or description in either book, so the plot has to move forward in dialogue. This could be an awkward burden for the characters, but it doesn't feel that way in either book. In fact, I found it entertaining to marvel at how the story unfolds through short (four or five word) pieces of dialogue. And the dialogue is primarily questions or exclamations too.
I know, however appealing this short text is, that is wouldn't work as well for beginning readers without the illustrations. Pages where all four alligators speak are usually broken into panels. This allows the reader to match the character with their action. In Rainy Day! when the friends stumble across a mini golf park in the fog, they all use different words to explain how they will get the golf ball into the hole. "'Putt it!' said Pam" and in her panel, she is doing just that (although she's putting with her umbrella!). Two pages later, the alligators come across a strange creature. The creature takes up one whole side of the double-paged spread, and his contribution ("GRRRRRR!") is in large bold letters. On the other side of the page, all four friends pile together in fear. But the text still matches with each friend, so a reader can match their expression with their worried exclamations. In these books, text and illustration work hand in hand to give meaning.
One of the ways these books would work with even younger children would be in units about clothing. In both types of inclement weather - rain and snow - the alligators wear the proper clothing and spend time naming those accessories to the reader. The friends make it clear that bad weather doesn't stop them from enjoying themselves as long as they are well protected. The four assemble umbrellas, boots, rain coats and hats when they go out. Unlike Frances and Gloria, when it snows, those four alligators put on long underwear, boots, mittens and scarves. All of these items allow them to play outside longer than they would endure it otherwise. And of course when Sam, Pam, Will and Jill go sledding, they all don helmets and goggles. There is one page in Snow Day! where they are all taking off their winter gear. The page is set up in a grid, with each alligator assigned their own square where they take off the designated accessory. Even better, the alligators are depicted putting the item away (something that I cheered when I saw it the first time!). These alligators are fairly neat. These books, particularly Snow Day! would go well with other books such as The Jacket I Wear in the Snow and Froggy Gets Dressed (one of our favorites!).
These books are fun and full of exuberance. I love that these alligators make the most of these experiences - it will encourage young readers to try to go outside too. And I love that Lakin and Nash's twist on beginning readers. I just thought about the fact that it would be fun to "perform" these books as reader's theater, with four voices. I think it would be a perfect fit!
Snow Day! Patricia Lakin; pictures by Scott Nash. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002.
Rainy Day! Patricia Lakin; pictures by Scott Nash. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2007.
borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library