March 9, 2012

Jackhammer Sam

Jackhammer Sam
By Peter Mandel
Illus. by David Catrow
3-4 Preschool Primary Roaring Brook 40 pp.
978-1596430341 Hardcover $16.99

                          ATTA-RATTA-TATTA-BAM. D'ya know who I am?

With that, we are introduced to Jackhammer Sam, the larger than life, noisier than New York, protagonist of Peter Mandel's sixth picture book. Jackhammer Sam is a rowdy, chaotic book, with a casual rhyming text ("Th' name's Jackhammer Sam. Yeah, that's the man I am") and illustrations that offer an almost uncanny portal into the rattle and din of a New York City construction site. Mandel employs onomatopoeia  with vigorous enthusiasm ("SLIP-SLAP-SLOP...RRRIP-DRIP-DROp...KREEK-KER-PLOP") making this a terrific read-a-loud for preschoolers, and though he sometimes loses track of his rhythm, it can be forgiven as he sweeps the reader along on this rackety ride.

The first half of Jackhammer Sam is quite a strong as Sam takes the reader through Manhattan, blasting away at sidewalks and leaning on his jackhammer with his magnificent belly. Mandel loses some control over his material in the second half as Sam takes the reader out to sea and even to space jackhammering until he "drains the Milky Way," but then it's back to earth where Sam takes a bow at the end of his "song".

The text and illustrations are dynamic and fun and will no doubt be a hit with preschool age boys (and potentially less princess-oriented girls), but the book would be stronger overall if it were slightly shorter. Still, Jackhammer Sam is fun and dynamic. It's a good book for introducing onomatopoeia and sound-play, and a great way to coax reluctant readers (especially boys) into engaging a written text.

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