Review of the Day: Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor
The snail, as I see it, is not a natural child substitute in a picture book setting. While kids are prone to short attention spans, rambunctiousness, and general speed, snails are squat, slow, and uniquely focused. They do, however, share one quality that children can relate to: a relentless desire for tasty food. Particularly my tasty food. My tomatoes. My poor poor tomatoes. Sorry, where was I? Ah yes! Waxing rhapsodic over the fictional snail, I was. Well, when it comes to storytelling only tortoises, turtles, and sloths rival snails in their methodical disregard for hurrying things up a bit. I suppose that when he wrote his Fox easy book series (“Fox the Tiger”, “Fox and the Jumping Contest”, “Fox and the Bike Ride,” and “Fox Is Late,”) author/illustrator Corey Tabor already had the child stand-in angle covered. Snails, in contrast, offer all kinds of different fictional possibilities. I’ve read snail picture books before, but few have plumbed their humor quite as well as Tabor has in “Snail Crossing”. Less a story of persistence than a lesson in karma, this may well be the first snail-adjacent picture book that has ever made me AND my kids laugh out loud for long periods of time. I can think of no better praise than that.
Lucky is the snail that notices a patch of plump, crisp cabbage just waiting to be eaten. Unfortunate is the snail that must cross a highway to get to them. When Snail finds himself in this very situation, does he hesitate? He does not! Without another thought he makes his way across the asphalt. And when a small group of rude ants need his help in a rainstorm, Snail is perfectly positioned to offer them aid. But watch out, Snail! There are cars to avoid. There are crows that require evasive maneuvers. And sometimes, to get your heart’s desire, it’s a good idea to rely on your friends.
Now I’m not what I would call an anxious person. I know some folks that cannot stand it when, in a movie, the driver of a car keeps neglecting to watch the road. But even I had to admit to a bit of high tension when Snail set forth upon that two-lane highway. He is so small and the cars so big, that every time he takes a rest or a pause or goes into his shell to have tea, some part of my brain kept shouting, “RUN! RUN, YOU FOOL! DON’T YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?” Of course he doesn’t. If he did we wouldn’t have much of a story now, would we? Most kids reading this book won’t pay as much attention to this fact, but every once in a while you’re going to get a child that is just as stressed out and anxious about this situation as I am. And, like myself, once everything turns out all right at the end they’re going to want to read this book again. And again. And again. And again.
To the world’s detriment, you may not hear many folks waxing rhapsodic over Tabor’s art. It’s perfect for what he writes, but he doesn’t go in for lush sweeping landscapes or eclectic mixed media productions. Snail himself is little more than just a pair of googly eyes on stalks. And yet, there are these little tiny moments Tabor chooses to include that just make it that much more of a pleasure to read. The first time a car comes barreling over Snail there is this sudden refraction of the light. A little sunspot, like the sun has bounced off the moving car and, for just one instant, into your eyes. This reflection is echoed a little lower to the left and a little higher, in front of the car’s grill. And once you’ve picked up on that, well, it’s hard not to notice other little details like the ginko tree leaf pattern in Snail’s living room or the way Tabor illustrates a poppy with just a flick of paint. Beauty + funny = picture book gold.
Remember when I mentioned that this book made my 5-year-old son and myself laugh out loud? That moment comes near the end of the book and consists of only two words: “Well, shoot.” I shall say no more, just in case you haven’t read the book yourself yet. And if you haven’t then you’re in for a treat. Misleadingly simple is an overused term in the picture book reviewing business, and yet I can think of no other way of adequately explain what is going on here. Oddly beautiful with a well-shelled hero and some jokes to boot, this book isn’t big and complicated. It’s small and compact. It’s simplicity itself. It’s exactly what you want in a picture book.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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