I’ve already talked about David McPhail’s Edward in the Jungle, but this past week I picked up his book The Puddle. These two books could not be more different. Where Edward was action packed and full of adventure, The Puddle is a softer quieter book with a lot of silliness mixed in. It is the type of story that I grew up with and for some reason I was reminded of the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik while reading it. The books are not similar but the tone that they were written in is. This is a quiet book about a simple thing that becomes extraordinary.
The story follows our narrator who wants to go out in the rain to sail his little sailboat. His mother agrees but tells him not to get wet or muddy. So he dresses up in his raincoat and goes out to a big puddle to sail his boat. Shortly after launching his boat, a frog comes along and steals it. He hops into the boat and refuses to bring it back near the shore. (did I mention it was a big puddle). Since the little boy can’t get wet, he cannot follow. Luckily an alligator shows up and offers to bring the boat back. He reclaims it from the frog but returns the boat with a bit of damage. But it doesn’t matter because right then a pig shows up wanting to go for a swim in the puddle. He jumps in and splashes the boy. But then an elephant comes along and wants a drink. She drinks up the whole puddle, and when the other animals yell at her, she spits it back out, drenching the animals and the boy. She leaves and the rain stops. The puddle dries up and everyone leaves. The boy goes home and is told to take a bath, where he finally gets to sail his sailboat in peace.
I’m not sure why this book seemed like a quiet little story to me with all the silliness that goes on. But somehow McPhail presents the tone as no big deal. And elephant arriving at the puddle is treated pretty matter-of-factly. In fact the interactions with all the animals is done very quietly. Even the frog bumping into a turtle or the alligator grabbing the sailboat is done with a softness. Part of this might be the illustrations. With the rainy day theme, McPhail uses mostly watercolors. There are often two smaller pictures on each page and the border of each image is not clearly defined. All the edges are soft often rounded. This gives the book a soft muted look. McPhail paints our narrator as a rather cute little boy who spends most of his time in a tiny rain slicker and what looks like a fireman’s hat. He is a nostalgic looking character and makes me think of growing up. But the animals are what really made this book wonderful for me. Each seems to have it’s own personality. The elephant is timid, the turtle serene, the frog is a bully, and the alligator is a big softie. A wonderful little story that seemed a throwback to older days. This book made me nostalgic and ultimately made me happy. A quiet little book that is perfect for rainy afternoon.