Understatement is not lost on children. Neither is subtlety (though you probably wouldn't know it when a 2-year old has decided to tell you "the funniest knock knock joke ever"). The creation of an effective picture book for small children has a variety of different tacks it can take, subtle being the most difficult. But "Click, Clack, Moo", is beyond sublime, and it gets away with it too. In it, author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin have penned a delightful story about some dexterous cows with simple demands. In this tale, Farmer Brown's cows have gotten ahold of a typewriter. Now equipped with the means with which they can express themselves, the cows demand electric blankets forthwith. Farmer Brown demurs (by throwing a small fit) so the cows join up with the chickens in demanding blankets for the chickens as well. In the end, a solution is reached and all parties are satisfied with the outcome.
There is a single moment in this book that was, to me, the height of sophistication. After hearing the cows demands, Farmer Brown types up a letter of refusal. We next see a two-page spread of the long road to the barn. A white duck, oversized letter in beak and a left foot poised in the air, walks alone. The text reads, "Duck was a neutral party, so he brought the ultimatum to the cows". I love using the term neutral party in a picture book. I love that extravagant and elaborate word "ultimatum" bandied about a barnyard tale. Every children's book should be so lucky as to have a moment such as this.
Honestly, though I enjoyed the pictures I was not overwhelmed by them. Betsy Levin's style is a simple watercolor utilizing thick black lines and wide open-eyed expressions. That's all well and good, but in some ways I wanted to see something a little more interesting. But that's just me. This book is a fun romp into "what if" territory. Read aloud well, it could capture many a youngsters attention again and again and again.