Now that Miss E is becoming old enough to enjoy mixing a few early readers in with her nightly picture books, I have a new appreciation for the ALA's new-ish Theodor Seuss Geisel book award. The Geisel award committee recognizes exceptional books in the "early reader" category. And this is a category where, even as a kiddie lit prof, I often have trouble identifying books I want to bring home and share. For though "early readers" include many wonderful, classic stories (Seuss, Frog and Toad, Amelia Bedelia, etc), it's also a far more restrictive category than the picture book. Authors are very limited in terms of vocabulary, sentence length, and sentence structure, while illustrators must typically conform to a smaller page size, accommodate more text, and fill more pages. Thus extraordinary titles---those that delight our eyes and ears and engage our imaginations---are seriously outnumbered by more strictly didactic titles, including a great number of cheaply produced "licensed character" books.
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same, a 2011 Geisel Honor Book certainly did delight and engage us. This is the first early reader from the very talented Grace Lin, who has previously authored and/or illustrated over twenty picture books as well as four novels (including the 2010 Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon). And I certainly hope it won't be the last.
The book is comprised of six stories, each about seven pages long and unified by a color palette, describing the everyday adventures of twins Ling and Ting, whose nearly identical appearance (and always identical dresses) means they are often declared "exactly the same" despite their very different personalities. The first five stories and their accompanying paintings---which recount a haircut, a magic trick, dumpling making (and eating), and a trip to the library---showcase the girls' vitality and the author/illustrator's gentle humor while reinforcing the central theme. The sixth story brings together the previous five in clever and surprising ways. Throughout, the girls accept each others' differences with patience and understanding but also rejoice in their special bond as twins, inviting us to do the same. Moreover, in developing this universal theme, Lin also succeeds in subtly challenging a persistent (and specific) Asian American stereotype (something she raises in her author's note).
Miss E's Read: She especially likes the "Making Dumplings" chapter, both because "dumpling" is a fun word to say and because the dumplings are stuffed with meat, which her mostly-vegetarian mom eschews.