Saturday, March 8, 2014

Phoebe and Digger by Tricia Springstubb

Phoebe and Digger by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Jeff Newman

Rating: 4.5 stars

A digger book!  A digger book with a girl for a main character!  This is already welcome stuff.  Ben was confused, in a great way.  Their definitions of what girls play with/do and what boys play with/do are so chiseled in stone it's great to see a book challenge their stereotypes a little!

And the story is really good: "When Mama got a new baby, Phoebe got a new digger." The baby and Digger made lots of sounds all around Mama, until she says, exhausted from the movement and noise: "It is time to go to the park." Phoebe and Digger have room to play, space for noise, and heaps of real dirt.  Phoebe and Mama are both happy.

Until Phoebe spooks a little boy with a worm, which makes him cry, and that made Mama's baby cry, which "turned out to be a secret baby signal.  Soon every baby in the park was crying."  Phoebe took a time out on the bench.  When she was allowed to play again, a big, mean girl comes in and swipes Digger.  Phoebe turns from a tough cookie to a sad kid in one push of a digger's wheels.  The big, mean girl has Digger.  Phoebe isn't sure she'll ever get Digger back.  Just when she feels like she's about to cry...
When Mama got a new baby,
Phoebe got a new digger.

Mama comes in and rescues her, helps her get Digger back.  After some big hugs and positive interaction between the new siblings for the first time all day, Phoebe gives the baby a turn with Digger while she shares a popsicle with Mama.  It's an ending that makes you feel good.

I am reading children's books through a whole new lens these days.  I came out to the world (okay, really just myself and a few friends on Facebook) as an aspiring author a few weeks ago while packing for my first Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators in New York.  I say "came out" because while I only came out as an author, it did take a dose of bravery to say, out loud, what I've thought of myself for decades.

Anyway, the conference was phenomenal--informative and inspiring and a wonderful immersion into a whole world of kids' literature.  I did my best to scribble down any and all tidbits and suggestions and tips in my notebook, to which I've returned almost daily to get a little dose of motivation.  One of the big takeaways from the conference: a children's book--even one with just 30 or 50 words--needs structure.  I knew I had a lot to learn, but I didn't realize that just reading hundreds (thousands?) of books with my kids didn't teach me what I needed to know about how to write children's books.  The really good ones have a structure behind them that makes them sound better.

And Phoebe and Digger, though there's no rhyming at all in it, has a rhythm to it and a structure to it that makes it read nicely.  For me, there are a lot of similarities between this book and Owen by Kevin Henkes, and a bunch of his other books.  Books that are very well written, and therefore very enjoyable reads...especially, as we do it here, read-alouds.

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