Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rope 'Em! by Stacy Nyikos

I love participating in Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, and I get especially excited when she asks for a volunteer to review a children's picture book. The last one I reviewed was An Apple Pie for Dinner, which is still a favorite of both my girls. So when Barrie asked if anyone was interested in reviewing a picture book by another member of the Book Review Club, Stacy Nyikos, I jumped at the chance. And I am very, very glad the author sent me a copy!

At first I was concerned. Amazon.com suggests the book for 9-12 year-olds, which seemed a bit old for a picture book. Would my 7- and 4-year olds enjoy the story or would it be too much for them?

As I started reading, I remained concerned. A lot of the book - which is hilarious, incidentally - is an extended pun I doubt my 4-year-old understood. It's a Western. Set underwater. At the "OK Coral." On every page I felt like there were at least two jokes I needed to explain in order for my children to "get" the story.

But I held off and just read the story, instead. And then I read it again. And again. And, later, again. When my Ada's preschool class started a unit on the ocean I allowed her to take the book with her to school to share with her friends. (Ada has a thing for the ocean and another current favorite picture book of both of my girls is a western: Susan Middleton Elya's Cowboy Jose.)

I'm probably underestimating my kids. I bet they do get the humor in a bull shark chasing cowfish. And what's not to love about a sea horse who's a champion herder?

I'm still not sure exactly what my girls like about this book. They can't quite articulate why it's so great, but they certainly ask for it at bedtime again and again. They love to hate the shark. They sympathize with the heros. And my preschooler is a big fan of the TEAMWORK message that ends the story and dovetails nicely with a concept emphasized at her school.

The writing is clever, and with all the puns there's plenty for 9-12 year-olds (and adults) to enjoy. But the story also works on a simpler level for younger children. There's not too much text on the page, and Bret Conover's illustrations are worth the journey through the book all by themselves.

I can tell you what I like about the book, but for a children's picture book I think the highest praise is when a child requests the book over and over. And that's certainly happening at our house. Cowboy José had to go back to the library yesterday, but we still have Rope 'Em and I know we'll read it again tomorrow!

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