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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Eva Montanari, WHAT DOES LITTLE CROCODILE SAY?

The alarm clock goes ring, ring. The car goes vroom, vroom. The elephant says peekaboo. And the crocodile says... WAHHHH! Experience the highs and lows of Little Crocodile's first day of preschool, all through sounds.

Max's Boat Pick: What Does Little Crocodile Say?

Written and illustrated by Eva Montanari

Publisher: Tundra Books (June 15, 2021)

What inspired you to write What Does Little Crocodile Say? EM: "I drew the first sketches for this book when my son started nursery school. It was a wonderful nursery school, with lots of space, books, material, and well-prepared, loving teachers. The idea for the book came to me spontaneously. I was thinking about the fascination that toddlers have for sounds and combined it with the daily experience of separation, which parents also struggle with in the first weeks and months of nursery school, but later on, too. I felt just like Big Crocodile, with tears building up in the corner of my eyes and ready to fall as soon as the door that separated our days would close. Yet I knew that the experience that my little crocodile was about to have, the first from which I would be excluded, was important and wonderful, full of new sounds to discover. So, I tried to imagine it myself and the result was What Does Little Crocodile Say?"

You explore the first day of preschool jitters so well. Are there any other first day of school/preschool picture books you would recommend? "There are many books about the first day of school and among these many that I like for the most diverse reasons. I love the hilarious irreverence of Stephanie Blake's I Don’t Want to Go to School, the adorable classicism of Haruo Yamashita and Kazuo Iwamura's Seven Little Mice Go to School, and the sweetness of Marianne Dubuc's 1,2,3 Off to School!

Among the most recent books, I like School’s First Day of School, written by Adam Rex with powerful illustrations by Christian Robinson. Thanks to the shift in the point of view, it’s the school itself that tells us about its first day. And after the first there are the other days. They might be dense, difficult, exciting, controversial and always in relationship with others. Among the books that have the world of school as a background (or the irreducible difference between the needs of adults and of children), one of my favorites is La Buca by Emma Adbage which I think has not yet been translated in the States. When I read it for the first time, I made a sudden leap into the courtyard of my primary school and found myself reliving the same emotions of almost forty years earlier: a sense of injustice, wildness, and desire for freedom. And the power of literature."

Your book is so FUN to read aloud. Are there any other books you find perfect for reading aloud? "I love to read in silence. And I love to read aloud. I read aloud for my partner or we take turns, I listen to readings aloud, and I hope I can continue reading to my son and nephew even when they can read better than I can. Among the books that I find perfect for reading aloud, there are naturally some classics that play with sounds like We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, and with repetitions like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by the great Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr., rhyming books like Green Eggs and Ham and all the books by Dr. Seuss, and those in which there are dialogues and it's possible to change the voice for each character such as the hilarious Cornabicorna by Pierre Bertrand and Magali Bonniol and Mon Balloon by Mario Ramos. Then there are books that are more contemplative, such as the splendid Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis that we have read and reread not only observing every slightest variation in the images, but also having fun interpreting the mysterious language of insects."

What books do you love reading together with your son? At age three? At age five? What would be on your list of best picture books for three-year-olds? For five-year-olds? "In my house we have always had a very anarchic relationship with the recommended age for reading. I have often proposed suitable books to my son that have gone almost unnoticed and read "unsuitable" books that have become a source of inspiration and wonder. Naturally proposing does not mean imposing but simply starting to read and see what effect it produces. Is he curious? If I close the book, does he ask me to continue or possibly reread? When my son was four, between one reading and another I also proposed Pippi Longstocking. After some time, when we got his folder of drawings from kindergarten, I found at least a dozen that represented Pippi with long, wiry legs, at the end of which there was a number. The number 100 was one of the first he learned to write, perhaps due to the need to find a pair of shoes large enough for one of his favorite characters.

At the age of three we passed from Toti Scialoya's imaginative poems in Tre chichi di Moka, Swimmy by Leo Lionni, I Bestiolini by Gek Tessaro to the complete series of Moomins by Tove Jansson.

Between the ages of four and five we started reading Astrid Lindgren's Lotta, illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna to Pippi Longstocking, Karlson on the Roof, Emil & the Great Escape, and The Children of Noisy Village.

The books by Hervé Tullet, in particular Press Here and Help! We Need a Title! or the various books with Harold and his purple crayon by Crockett Johnson, and all the books by Chris Haughton, in particular Shh! We Have a Plan, continue to be among the illustrated favorites.

So I wonder if books, when they are really good, don't say something different at every age for that sense of mystery we feel in the combination of known words with other enigmatic ones, for the wonder we feel even when grown-up, in front of images and their always new combinations with words."


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