Our Town Books Reviews: Crabtree

CrabtreeThis book review originally appeared in the Jacksonville newspaper, The Source.

Crabtree
By Jon and Tucker Nichols.
32 pp. McSweeney’s Books. $17.95.

Poor Alfred Crabtree. He’s lost his false teeth and rummages anxiously through his belongings to find them. We immediately see that Alfred has a lot of belongings. A double fold-out page shows not just his flashlight and his sheriff’s badge but his carton of half-and-half, his Most-Improved Paddle Tennis trophy, his half egg shell, his tarantula, his can of Golden Gate paint, his ear plug and much, much more. But, alas, no false teeth.

So Alfred does what any sensible man would do: He calls his sister for advice. His sister tells him, “Alfred, you need to get organized. Put everything you have into categories. Anything left over will be your missing teeth.”

Accordingly, Alfred begins to devise categories. We see sweetly goofy drawings of his Hats and Helmets category–including his bunny ears, his Gilligan hat, his welding helmet–all laid out on creamy tall-format pages. If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to get organized, you might want to consider some of his other categories such as Real Ducks and Decoys, Broken Things, and Small Yapping Dogs. (Or on second thought, maybe you’d rather not.)

In short, Crabtree is a Richard Scarry book for 21st-century kids, one with humor that will appeal to both preschoolers and adults. However, this is much more than a point-and-name book. One of the major cognitive tasks of the early childhood years is the concept of grouping: figuring out what characteristics several objects have in common.

And as Crabtree demonstrates, it’s possible—and fun–to sort by many different attributes, not just shape, color and size. Sometimes you have to look closely to figure out what characteristic a child is using for grouping. Given a handful of pocket change to sort, a preschooler might group the coins by putting all the pennies in one pile, the nickels in another and the dimes in yet a third. She might make two separate piles, one of silver and the other of copper coins or, perhaps, she’ll sort by rough-edged and smooth-edged. Alfred Crabtree’s ideas for grouping are not unlike a child’s, fresh and original. His categories will give children lots to chuckle about—and lots to think about, too.

Plus, there’s a bonus not often found in children’s picture books: a real dust jacket. It’s not just any dust jacket either. It unfolds into a giant two-sided poster so children can search through the book, matching pictures from poster to page and page to poster. Like Crabtree, the dust jacket is in a class by itself.

Reviewed by Sally Nurss

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