It’s a perfect day to walk the dog. So jingle the leash, hook it onto your pooch’s collar and take a walk to your nearest indie bookstore. Have I got a picture book for you. Fetch a copy of the best of the best in a recently released book entitled, Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Christian Robinson. This picture book is the perfect pairing of art and words. The cover image of the resilient and trusting Gaston in an upholstered flowery chair with his paw on a book is arresting. Who could resist opening Gaston? While the art is delightful and the text is perfection it is the powerful message that makes it exceptional. We know from the start that Gaston is different from his litter mates. Their names, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-la-la tell you their breed. Gaston may be French but he is no poodle. He is an adorable white puppy though and as his features, size, and abilities grow the reader notices just how different he becomes. When a trip to the park brings his poodle family and a French bulldog family together it’s obvious. He looks as if he belongs with them. But how does he feel? We meet Gastons everyday, children who look different from their families. You don’t have to look like the members of your family to belong. DiPucchio and Robinson have done a masterful job of telling a puppy dog’s story in sumptuous color and pattern with magical read aloud text. I simply love this book!
A book with this message has a place in every educator’s classroom. I consult in mainstream classrooms with children who look different because they wear hearing aids or cochlear implants to listen. Picture books like Gaston that embrace diversity offer reassurance that the family you are in, the classroom you are in, the community you are in, is where you belong even if it’s obvious you are different. And what better reminder to always trust what feels right? Gaston, oh Gaston!
Ponder This. In 1995 Orchard Books published a powerful book about greeting, about eating, about take out, about fake out and about waiting for the pizza man too. Hi Pizza Man deserves a come back. We simply need more Pizza Mans by the talented kid-knowledgeable Virginia Walter and talented Ponder Goembel on the shelves again. I would stand in line at the local indie store for this one.
The cover is sheer delight. How can you not want to own this book with a pizza box being held by a dinosaur’s foot, a snake’s tail, a cat’s paw…you get the picture. And they are outside a conventional door about to deliver dinner! Love this! Vivian is playing with trains when she calls, “Mama!” (page turn, of course!) “I’m hungry!” Walter has every reader/listener’s attention from the start. Truly special are the fun and fanciful illustrations in this exceptional book. The snake dons a derby hat and three bow ties. The duck wears a turban and gold jewelry including an ankle bracelet. The pizza woman is in a baseball cap but she wears a fur stole and pearls. The children that I work with are always enchanted by the dog balancing the pizza box on his nose in a vest with embroidered trim, paws on his hips with attitude. “WOOF WOOF, PIZZA DOG!” Vivian is entertained by the cast of imaginary characters coming to her door through a word game with her mother. “What if it’s a pizza dinosaur? Then what will you say?” “ROAR, PIZZA DINOSAUR!” Years ago when saying goodbye to a family I had worked with a gift came out of mom’s bag for me. The shape was a dead giveaway. Books are such a part of every session that this could have been any recently published picture book. It wasn’t just any book though and it was no longer being published. OMG. It’s Hi Pizza Man. Where did you find this? Mom had spent time tracking it down for me on eBay. She sat needlessly apologizing for its condition. I hope I told her it was just perfect because it was and it still is. It is stamped Ames Public Library, Ames, Iowa. I treasure this out of print prize.
Recent research in the area of speech and language development focusses on the importance of pragmatics. Language use or social language matters. We need to be able to help early communicators direct what they say to the people in their lives. For very young children this has to do with fundamentals like making eye contact, using language to request, to inform, and to greet one another. Hi Pizza Man has it all. Vivian and her mother are fully engaged in a make-believe game that provides pragmatic practice in a safe, loving, comfortable environment, stomach grumblings aside. It’s magic on the page. It leads by example. It’s refreshing to share with families even if it is an ‘old’ picture book. It’s timeless and it’s cutting edge at the same time.
So please, publishers, find a way to reprint more Hi Pizza Mans. Until then comb yard sales and used book sales. Then order a pizza and sit down with a child or two for a great read.