Getting fit, strong, healthy and all those good things is a great deal less strenuous when you are too busy chasing a ball, a puck, a pack, a windblown shuttlecock to stop and notice the salutary benefits.
Which is sort of how I feel about counting books, and books about letters, and books about shapes when they are suggested to me here: absent bouncy narrative, these tend to run the risk of being mistaken for a drill. One-, two-, three-year-old budding skeptics are the putative audience for this genre, and really, they’ve got the rest of their lives to worry about self-improvement.
Plus I already know my ABC’s. So, for heaven’s sake, surprise me! In Ellsworth’s Extraordinary Electric Ears, the author and illustrator (okay, photographer) Valorie Fisher assembles dizzying dioramas from dolls and toys and plastic animals and household appliances in the service of alphabetical anecdotes, or is it the other way around? What came first, the pictures or the words?
Well, at least they appear to be enjoying one another’s company. I is for ice cream, of course, but irresistible? And Q is for quacking, we have heard, but what about quibbling? Or quarreling? Is it ever too early to learn about those? Fisher even gleefully rises to the challenge of U without an umbrella, substituting unusual utensils which happen to be also utterly useless instead. Rereading it now, I see refrigerator rockets that I had not remembered before, and ostriches on opening night at the opera, and good-looking gorillas gardening, and I am gobsmacked, dumbstruck, flabbergasted at the powers of vocabulary that we needlessly leave unexplored.
Oh Ellsworth! Not for nothing does he have light bulbs growing out of his head. Right here I’ll acknowledge that if it weren’t for this magnificent oddity I’m not sure I would have noticed Fisher’s recently published Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five, which otherwise resembles a very small corner of some merchandising empire I’ve never heard about, though in fact the very point of Fisher’s encyclopedia is that you should never need to buy anything like this again. Because it’s really the last word. Eighteen bucks and you’re set. The little toy kid on the cover driving her dump truck full of glossy mnemonics – attention, she’s waving: So long!
Wake me up when we get to kindergarten, okay?
Although you are welcome to join her if you choose. Have a seat. This strikingly simple book is organized like a game you make up on your rug, which was always one of my favorite parts of growing up, and now I think about it, being a parent as well. There are toy dinosaurs and rubber duckies and penguins to organize in groups from one to ten, and different colored marbles for extra credit if you are in the mood to count to twenty. The penguins have handbags. Please don’t ask why. And there are opposites and seasons and weather – there’s even the alphabet if you are not quite ready to be gobsmacked, but haven’t already learned to look away.