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Du Iz Tak?

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If I were still selling books at a brick and mortar, Carson Ellis’s Du Iz Tak? would be flying off the shelf. I was generously given a copy for review and couldn’ believe my luck. Even before reading the first page, the book cover sold itself twice over. Two insects, one male, and one female are carefully pointing at and scratching a chin while studying a small shoot of green just emerging from the dirt (a thick tan line at the bottom of the cover). It is the female bug whose words, Du Iz Tak?, make up the title, enclosed in a huge word balloon. This is going to be fun!

If the possibility of talking plants is not enough to make you at least grin, the silliness of bugs needing to ask should bring out the first of many laughs. I mean, these are bugs that live in a yard, or field, or something; they should know. It’s hard to explain the absolute beauty and charm of Ellis’s book. First of all, the language is as captivating to look at as it is to attempt to read out loud. The key word is attempt. The author’s words do not fall trippingly off a reader’s tongue.

With no spoiler intended (the assumption being that the child you read to will not be reading this review), this is what the story is about: bugs watching a flower grow; a caterpillar make a cocoon; a garden creature of unknown origin lend his little friends a tiny ladder and tools to build a fort; a group of garden creatures, some more easily recognized than others, build a fort in the flower when fully grown; a spider who is intent on building a web to ensnare the flower fort with its inhabitants; a bird who takes the spider away; and a cricket who fiddles a song of new birth for the beautiful moth who eventually leaves the cocoon.

It is both Ellis’s text and her illustrations that move this book into a category all it’s own. But first, back to the frazzled language of all the characters. Upon opening the book, two more creatures are shown observing the young shoot. The male insect points and asks, “Du Iz Tak?” The female insect replies, “Ma nazoot.” What? You ask, “Ma nazoot?” No time to even think about it because those are the only words on that page and the child you are reading to is already laughing uproariously at your obvious inability to read and wants you to turn the page. The following page has a caterpillar hanging from a branch of a log. The caterpillar says, “Ta ta!” – finally, words you know the meaning of and can pronounce without a hitch.

As the flower begins to grow, more garden creatures come out to see what is happening and the words from each are crazier than ever. Your tongue is stumbling over words that almost make sense, and the child listening is hysterical. I read this to two grandkids, ages two and four, and they were wild after the first reading and in love with the book by the fourth reading.

What tickles me about this book is not only the chance to appear as a dunderhead to my grandchildren, but to move beyond the storyline and talk about what the pictures say without words. How Ellis describes sadness with the hangdog look of ants or the passing of time from a full moon to the quarter moon. It is a story about life, the seasons, the coming and going of everything, including danger. And hooray for Candlewick Press to give Ellis the space her special art requires – with some pages almost empty, as winter comes in the silence of white. My favorite detail is the quality of music played by the grasshopper when anticipating the birth of the moth. The musical notes of birth are full and celebratory. Children will connect with the opening of the cocoon, and although I was pretty sure it wasn’t a butterfly, it took a few reads to recognize the beautiful luna moth. The book is a virtual roadmap for what is important in life. And if hearing the laughter of children isn’t important, I don’t know what is.

By day two, both kids brought the book out at every opportunity for another read. I cannot recommend Du Iz Tak? enough. I wrote the review on my iPad and left the book in Portland with the grandkids. All I need to break into laughter is to remember those words, “Du Iz Tak?” Trust me; this book is a keeper. –  Sunny Solomon

Also available, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis: Home. And illustrated by Carson Ellis: Wildwood Imperium, Collin Meloy; Under Wildwood, Collin Meloy; Wildwood, Collin Meloy; Dillweed’s Revenge, Florence Parry Heide; Stagecoach Sal, Deborah Hopkinson; The Beautiful Stories of Life, Cynthia Rylant; The Composer is Dead, Lemony Snicket; The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart.

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