First, a lengthy aside (when I’m writing, my asides are rarely anything but lengthy). My kids have been enjoying the world of Salina Yoon since birth. One of the first gifts my oldest son received before he was even born was a copy of The Icky Sticky Frog, which was illustrated by Salina Yoon (and, sadly, is out of print). During my library career, I brought home dozens of books for the boys, many of them board books, and many of those by Salina Yoon. Her board books are ideal for babies and toddlers – the bold colors and thick outlines in her pictures are far easier for the youngest readers to perceive than a softly shaded colored pencil or watercolor illustration. (I didn’t know this when my oldest was a baby, but I quickly caught on.)
In 2012, her first story book featuring Penguin was released: Penguin and Pinecone. My affection for penguins, combined with my appreciation for her earlier work, led me to buy the book partly because I had, incidentally, scheduled a story time featuring penguins and partly because I wanted to read it to my then-toddler, and the wait list at the library was simply too long. Since then, we’ve collected all the Penguin books (Penguin and Pumpkin, Penguin in Love, Penguin on Vacation, and Penguin’s Big Adventure, which may well be my oldest son’s favorite book at the moment) in addition to her newer character Bear’s adventures (Found and Stormy Night). Aside within the aside: through June, Kohl’s is featuring Salina Yoon books and plush as part of its $5.00 Kohl’s Cares program (and the profits go to charity! Win-win-win!). This is how we filled in the gaps in our collection.
So when I heard on Facebook (because I follow her on social media, of course) that she had a series of easy readers coming out, I got on Amazon and preordered the first title, Duck, Duck, Porcupine! (Bloomsbury, 9.99 USD). I was not disappointed, and neither were my boys. The illustrations are utterly charming, and the story, told through speech bubbles, is simultaneously subtle and simple enough for toddlers to catch the humor. This is no small accomplishment – even the Pigeon and Duckling books by Mo Willems go over my 4-year-old’s head sometimes, but not this.
Big Duck thinks she knows everything and does most of the talking, but it’s the nonverbal Little Duck who fixes her mistakes (and she makes a lot of mistakes). Little Duck is the Teller to Big Duck’s Penn – he’s the quiet straight man of the act. Porcupine rounds out their trio of friends by (often hesitantly) participating in Big Duck’s schemes and providing occasional commentary.
The three stories in this volume are at an easy reader level, but it also works beautifully as a story book – it doesn’t have that stilted rhythm that easy readers often suffer from. The first time we read it, I asked my older son what had happened in each story, and he recounted the narrative flawlessly, including the subtle humor and complicated emotion. At one point, the friends redo a picnic that got rained out earlier in the story. Are they happy to see the sun shining? Yes. But are they happy it’s not raining? Well, not really, because they learned that rain can be fun, too. My four-year-old understood all of this, and it’s communicated in three short sentences and two speech bubbles.
There’s subtlety for adults, too – at the end of each story, after Little Duck has saved the day, we see him breaking the fourth wall and giving the reader a look of exasperation that says it all. We fell your pain, Little Duck. So will any younger sibling who’s been underestimated by an older sibling.