Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pat Hutchins

School Library Journal Mary Hazelton

I was so sad to hear this week that Pat Hutchins died.  Her books have always been special to me.  This week I visited my local public library and was amazed to discover they only had one of her fabulous books.  I would have thought holding every Pat Hutchins title would be an essential part of any picture book collection.  I continued to search other public library catalogues but could only find a few of her famous books - Rosie's Walk, Titch, Don't forget the bacon and Goodnight owl.

Today I visited a very well stocked school library and borrowed a good selection. Pat is the author of nearly fifty titles but I particularly enjoy the woodland animal series.

  • The surprise party (1969)
  • The Silver Christmas Tree (1974)
  • What game shall we play (1990)
  • Shrinking mouse (1997)
  • We're going on a picnic (2002)

I enjoy these books because each has a affirming message about team work, friendship and making sense of the world.  I also really like her decorative style showing fur and feathers using contrasting patterns.  We see this illustrating style for the first time in her famous book Rosie's walk.  Here is the clumsy fox who never manages to catch the oblivious chicken.

The surprise party is very similar to another Pat Hutchins classic Don't forget the bacon because it is about muddling up language.  Rabbit whispers to owl that he is having a party but owl mishears and thinks "Rabbit is hoeing the parsley tomorrow."  As the news spreads the information becomes more and more complex and sightly ridiculous.  "Rabbit is riding a flea tomorrow."  When Rabbit finally catches up with his friends they reject his silly ideas because they have the wrong information.  Luckily rabbit decides to yell and not whisper "I don't know what YOU think I'm doing, but I'M HAVING A PARTY." 

The Silver Christmas Tree is an old favourite of mine.  Squirrel decorates his Christmas tree and just as he finishes a beautiful silver star appears on the top but then it disappears.  He goes off to ask his friends if they have seen his star but each friend is very secretive and each appears to be hiding a present.  Squirrel thinks they might be hiding his star but a keen observer will see the shapes of these various gifts are very odd.

In What game shall we play? the animals search for each other asking "what game shall we play?"  Every child will recognise they are already playing - hide a seek - and so we smile when Owl suggests this exact game.  The other aspect of this book which would be very useful for ESL teachers is the way Pat Hutchins uses prepositions such as across, among, over, in, near and around.

Shrinking Mouse tackles a more complex concept.  If something is some distance away is it in fact smaller?  The 'joke' her works when children know the animals are not actually shrinking and they most certainly will not disappear altogether.

If you have read Handa's surprise you will also enjoy We're going on a picnic.  The three friends fill the picnic basket with their favourite treats - berries for Hen, apples for Goose and Pears for Duck but as they walk along deciding on the best spot to sit a small team of thieves are at work. The final illustration is sure to make you and your young audience smile.

Finally I should mention Pat's newest title - the sequel to Rosie's walk (1968) entitled Where, oh where, is Rosie Chick?  This is the perfect book to read to a very young child and it contains the same visual jokes she included all those years ago.

If you want to explore Pat Hutchins books you should also look for her monster series - The Very worst Monster, Where's the Baby, Silly Billy and Three Star BillyWhere's the Baby is particularly clever in the use of rhyme of humour.  Students in my school always enjoy the antics of naughty Billy and his long suffering sister Hazel.  This book is a joy to read aloud.

Hutchins said of her writing, “I like to build my stories up, so the reader can understand what is happening and, in some cases, anticipate what is likely to happen on the next page. I think one can get quite complicated ideas across to small children as long as they are presented in a simple, satisfying way.”

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