My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am thinking about Christmas and whether I focus on it on the blog a little with it being, well, the run up towards Christmas. The problem I have is that I think there’s not really any specific book I would reccomend you purchase as a present (for, I hope, if it were worth featuring, I would feature it irrespective of it’s present potential and of the time of year) and I’m not particularly timely with my reccomendations at times (what with being wed to my library and their purchasing patterns). So I think, perhaps, what I can and will do is this.
I will feature books like Open Very Carefully : A Book With Bite and I shall feature them because of what they do. And in a way, it’s through that ‘what they do’ that they earn their worth. One of the greatest things I could ask you to think about and to give to others if you can or want to, is a confidence with reading. I think sometimes we are afraid of reading, wrapping it up in an inapproachable mysticism and books full of dull and worthy ‘let’s learn to read today, kids!’. I learnt to read a long time ago, but I did not learn the difference between active and passive reading until fairly recently.
And that difference is embodied in books like this. Open Very Carefully is an imprint from the increasingly impressive Nosy Crow publishing house and it is, at first, a very simple looking picture book. The paper is weighty, the art fairly straightforward and as we go in, it appears we’ll be reading a book called ‘The Ugly Duckling’. But that title’s been scribbled across and the words: OPEN VERY CAREFULLY are scrawled across the double page spread.
(This is perhaps my only issue with Open Very Carefully in that it flirts on the edge of brilliance. I almost want it to go one step beyond – to have this ‘The Ugly Duckling’ as the front page spread instead of the actual cover. It’s a little bit back to front, with a front cover telling us what the book is inside and then we step back to read what it was and then we read what it is. I long for that front cover to be this spread with the wording wrapped around it like police hazard tape and daring us to go inside. It is so close to brilliant this book).
Once we start reading, we discover that the innocent story of The Ugly Duckling has been invaded. There is a CROCODILE in this book: “A Really big scary one!” This is when Open Very Carefully starts to make my heart sing. We have the Crocodile eating letters (“I think his favourite letters to eat are O and S”) which means that we have moments like: “St p! / Mr Cr c dile!” / Y u can’t eat the letter !”). We have to rock the book: “backwards and forwards” to rock the crocodile to sleep. This level of audience participation continues throughout: “Maybe if you shake the book he’ll / fall / out.” It’s glorious stuff – and it’s through this level of interactive reading, this, for want of a better phrase, of getting up close and personal with the book, that makes readers confident. You’re showing them the power of words – and what’s more important is that you’re showing them that they – that they, themselves can do this. They can make it happen!
Now that I think about it, Open Very Carefully really is a bit of a gift. Through clever storytelling and beautiful construction (the ‘cut-outs’ towards the end are very nicely done), and some very subtly provocative text, we have something rather special. It’s not Christmasy at all (perhaps the bobble hat on the duckling gives it a Winter flavour?) but it is one of the cleverest picture books I’ve read for a long time. Reminiscent of the great, great “Who’s afraid of the big bad book”, Open Very Carefully is very close to perfect.