Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Children's Book Review: 'Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure' by Matt Luckhurst

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure by Matt Luckhurst
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012

Author/illustrator Matt Luckhurst does a wonderful job of bringing some of the Paul Bunyan legends to life in this book which combines text with art in a manner slightly reminiscent of web site infographics.  The illustrations on each page are large and brightly-colored, with words that weave through and around them and are sometimes incorporated into the images themselves.

This retelling uses Paul Bunyan's (and his blue ox Babe's) love of pancakes as an anchor for the story, as the pair travel across the country on many adventures. They help clean up a road spill when a truck dumps a load of flour into the river (which forms pancake batter that is subsequently cooked by the sun). Their words freeze in their mouths as they travel through the old land of lakes near Minnesota. They attempt to level the ground in the west with pancake batter (which, when melted by the sun, forms the Rocky Mountains). And they create the Grand Canyon when Babe digs his heels into the ground while trying to chase an errant pancake along the Colorado River. In the end, the pair grows sick from eating too many pancakes, and returns home to eat the over-sized vegetables Bunyan's mother grows in her garden.

The moral of the story is in no way heavy-handed as it blends seamlessly with the tall-tale tone of the narrative. The third grade class I read this book to was mesmerized by the larger-than-life story and colorful illustrations. The students commented on the way the text was incorporated into the images and found the outrageous exaggerations to be entertaining. With accessible words and images, this book would probably appeal to a wide range of elementary school students.

Click here to see a video about the book.

Matt Luckhurst first heard of the tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as a child growing up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. A graduate of the MFA design program at the School of Visual Arts, Matt lives in New York City and works in the areas of design, illustration, and video.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor and website designer and developer. Check out more of her book reviews at reneesreads.com.

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