April 1, 2012

Wemberly's Ice Cream Star

Wemberly's Ice Cream Star
By Kevin Henkes; illus by author
1-4 Preschool Greenwillow 22 pp.
978-0060504052 Board Book $6.99

Wemberly and her stuffed rabbit, Petal, are back, this time in Wemberly's Ice Cream Star, a board book unrelated but thematically linked to their first picture book, Wemberly Worried. With Wemberly, Henkes has created a portrait, uncanny in its accuracy, of the worried child -  the one who looks before she leaps and whose attachments are devoted and profound (evidenced in her relationship to Petal, whom she treats with the utmost care and consideration). In Wemberly's Ice Cream Star, Wemberly's propensity for concern, already established in Wemberly Worried, and her touching ability to overcome it have been expertly distilled into a deceptively straight-forward board book. Whereas the nuances in Wemberly Worried would go over a toddler's head, Wemberly's Ice Cream Star features a situation simple enough to appeal to the preschool set.

It's a hot day, and as a special treat, Wemberly is given an ice cream star. Though happy to have the star, Wemberly worries that she will drip on her dress. Even more, she worries that there is no ice cream for Petal so she sets about solving the problem. She gets two bowls, two spoons and two napkins and waits, slowly dripping the star into each bowl as it melts over the course of three pages. Then she and Petal enjoy "ice cream soup" with their napkins tied firmly around their necks. The final page features Wemberly offering a droopy Petal help finishing.

Henkes draws Wemberly, with her trademark "worried" eyebrows, hunkering down and looking ever more determined on each page, a progression that makes Wemberly both realistic and loveable. And that's really Henkes' triumph with Wemberly - she is, quite literally, love-able. At the end, when she sits with her bunny proudly eating the fruits of her labor, you feel proud of her too because she solved her problem - she found a way to share her ice cream, and she did so without ruining her dress. Wemberly might worry, but she doesn't let it cripple her. She's a problem-solver and, because of that, a good role model, especially for sensitive kids.

There's a surprising amount of value in Wemberly's Ice Cream Star, the strongest of the five books in Henkes' mouse-board book series (the series also includes Lilly's Chocolate Heart, Owen's Marshmallow Chick, Sheila Rae's Peppermint Stick and Julius's Candy Corn). The sentences are short and declarative ("Wemberly worried that she might drip on her new dress) and the story couldn't be more straight-forward. Yet for all its simplicity, skills like sharing and problem-solving drive the narrative while sight words and rhythm make the text accessible to even the most rudimentary readers. It's a lovely little read with a surprising amount of depth. Combine that with Wemberly herself, the sweetest of Henkes's mice, and Wemberly's Ice Cream Star is a real treat.

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