Monday, May 5, 2014

Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park

Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Rating: 5 stars

If you want to read a book to understand how some authors make rhymes work--I mean really work--for them, just pick up Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park.  It is, quite possibly, the best rhyme within a picture book I've ever read.  Each time I read it, I'm just floored by the twists and turns in the poem.  It's like riding a pleasant, not-too-crazy lyrical roller coaster.  When accompanied by the sweet illustrations by Matt Phelan, and once you realize the story itself is wonderful, you've got a pretty flawless book.

The story adds to this flawless feel because it's a feel-good, lesson-underneath story.  Xander is a panda who wants to throw a party (for himself), but he's the only panda.  So he decides to invite all the bears.  Including Koala Bear.  But wait!
From her tree, Koala hollered, "Zander, I am not a bear."
Xander didn't understand her.  "Koala Bear, you're not a bear?"
He stared at her in consternation.
"Sorry for the complication.
I know I'm called Koala Bear, but I am not a bear, I swear.
I am a marsupial.  Marsupials--we're rather rare.  Will I not be welcome there?"
Xander cutely distributes invitations to every animal...
He adjusts his invitation list to include marsupials by inviting all the mammals.  But…cranky-looking rhinoceros sends him a note:
It may sound a bit absurd, but I won't come without my bird.
So…  Zander broadens his guest list once more to include mammals and birds.  And then crocodile (with a most beguiling smile) begs politely to have the reptiles included.  Finally, with excitement rather than exhaustion and with the help of Amanda Salamander, the final invitation includes everyone.  And the first gift to Xander (from the zoo): another panda!

This book is quality, no doubt.  I can feel the hours it took to get every word just right, and now you have a rhyme that sure sounds effortless as I read it out loud to my children.  It is just flawless--because of its rhythm and rhyme and illustrations, but most importantly, the story.  And a teachable moment sort of story, too--a nice lesson on including everybody, even the animals you didn't think of first.  (I always forget to invite the crocodiles to my parties, too, Xander…)

Baby Bao Bao

P.S.  This book is great for anyone in the Northern Virginia area as we've been seeing adorable images of baby panda Bao Bao, born at the National Zoo some months ago.  So the kids are already panda-crazy and appreciate Xander a little bit more than usual.

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