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Aaaarrgghh, Spider!

The most enjoyable picture books are those where the adult reader can be laughing out loud at the end as much as the child.  This is one of those books.  Written and illustrated by Lydia Monks (see I Wish I Were A Dog) the story follows a lonely but determined spider who wants to become a family pet.

Apparently Lydia Monks is (like me!) afraid of spiders, but this book is as impressive a defence of spiders as you will find.  The spider sets out to prove that she is a fabulous pet, by dancing, washing herself and showing that she can catch her own food, unlike the existing pets of the family she wants to join.  Unfortunately the family are unappreciative of her efforts and show her the door repeatedly.  I had to laugh when the father carries her outside on top of a letter under a glass, as that is exactly the way we have always disposed of spiders.  Every time she is seen the family shout ‘Aaaarrgghh, spider! Out you go!’ which is great fun for all small people listening.

Eventually the spider gives up and goes to live in the garden.  But her beautiful double-page spread of (glitter-enhanced) webs convinces the family she may be an ideal pet after all.  She is delighted.  She goes for walks, travels in the car, goes shopping – a ‘real true proper pet’.  So excited is she, in fact, that she can’t wait for her new family to meet all her friends…

This is great fun.  Lydia Monks’ unique graphic style does not appeal to everyone, but here it lends itself brilliantly to the shocked faces of the family every time the spider appears.  The page covered in webs is visually arresting and the book both acknowledges the general distrust of spiders and argues their case, without in any way endorsing them as scary.  The last page is a superb punchline and full of clever and funny details.

This has become a huge favourite in our house and is a great book for both toddlers and preschoolers.  It’s quite short, and the repeated ‘Aaaarrgghh spider!’ is easy for tiny ones to say and to enjoy.  In fact I am repeatedly pursued around the house by the youngest shouting ‘Aaaarrgghh Spider! Aaaarrgghh Spider!’ and brandishing it enthusiastically.

Definitely a great addition to any family library.

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I Wish I Were A Dog

Kitty is fed up.  Dogs have all the fun.  They can play in the park, howl, chase robbers, and even be film stars.  Cats don’t do much that’s very exciting.  But Kitty’s owner thinks she’s forgotten all about being a cat and lists all the best things they do, along with some of the more stupid habits of the average dog.

Cat-owners will like this as feline independence definitely comes off best.  It’s a ‘grass is always greener’ story about appreciating what you have. Lydia Monks has a bright, witty style and the double page of the dogs in the park has plenty to point out and discuss.  The dog looks particularly miserable in the scenes showing the downside of being canine and his appearance in ‘disguise’ as a cat on the final page is quite funny.

This is a decent-enough book.  There is a positive if slightly simplistic moral and older children could benefit from a discussion about their own likes and dislikes about being themselves – would they actually want to be someone else?  In general however the story lacks any real narrative and suffers from double-standards: the poor dog looks utterly depressed when told how stupid he is and at the end he wishes to be a cat himself, somewhat undermining the book’s apparent message of self-acceptance.  The text too is printed in a bold font which is intrusive and uncomfortable to read.

Satisfactory but not satisfying.