Monday, October 20, 2008

The Not-So-Random Shelf: Picture Book

What a coincidence to have two bayou themed books on the same shelf! Growing up in bayou country near New Orleans and later working in Houston (nickamed "Bayou City"), Babies in the Bayou and Bayou Lullaby immediately grabbed my interest.

Babies in the Bayou is an adorable look at the animals in the bayou, focusing on the smaller representatives of the various species. “There are babies in the bayou with black and yellow tails/and smiling mouths with rows of sharp white teeth/Mother alligator guards her babies well/She lets no one come near.” Indeed, a very ferocious mama alligator is glaring at a curious raccoon (safely in a tree). Mama raccoon teaches her babies to dig for turtle eggs, baby turtles plop into the water, and ducklings swim in the water. Jim Arnosky’s gorgeous illustrations and rollicking text makes this a treat to read aloud.

Kathi Appelt’s Bayou Lullaby is told from the perspective of a father trying to get his daughter to sleep. “Rockaye, you bayou gal/Cattails be a-swishin’/ Softly sigh, oh bayou gal/ On a star be wishin’.” Dad tells her of the bullfrog croaking a lullaby, which soothes the alligators. The lullaby is accompanied by the buzzing mosquitoes and the chorusing tree frogs. All the animals in the bayou add their music to the bayou lullaby.

The Cajun dialect is quite difficult for non-natives to attempt. Kathi Appelt grew up familiar with the patterns of speech, which she reproduces very admirably. Neil Waldman’s illustrations brilliantly evoke the mysterious nighttime of the bayou.

Kathi Appelt is a native Houstonian. As such, she pronounces bayou differently than what those of us from southeastern Louisiana pronounce it. People in Houston, for the most part, pronounce it “BY oh.” Southeastern Louisianians, for the most part, pronounce it “BY-you.” I never heard the “BY oh” pronunciation until I moved to Houston. If you come to my story time and I read this aloud, I will say “BY-you.” It would have been nice if Appelt had included both pronunciations, as did Jim Arnosky, but that’s my only (minor) complaint about her book. Both books are lovely read alouds, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.

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