Mac Barnett, author of the Caldecott Honor-winning picture book Extra Yarn, turns a popular children’s game into a high-wire act in his latest offering. In many picture books featuring people and animals, the animal world serves as the background. In Telephone, the opening spread features a wordless panorama in which children playing outside offer a clue of what’s to come for the many birds sitting on the telephone lines high above.

The game begins as a mother pigeon carrying a steaming dish says to a young baseball-playing cardinal, “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.” The cardinal then tells an aviator Canada goose, “Tell Peter: Hit pop flies and homers.” Each subsequent spread continues with different birds, from an ostrich and pelican to a turkey and toucan, and with increasingly humorous variations of the original call to Peter.

Jen Corace, illustrator of the Little series (Little Pea, Little Hoot and Little Oink), adds to the hilarity with watercolor, gouache and pencil artwork that displays each bird’s colorful personality and message.

When a panicking golden bird relates a dire message to a sophisticated owl, this last—and, of course, wise—bird knows exactly what to tell Peter. The final spread comes full circle, showing different human families having dinner and one small bird flying back home. Whether read at home or during storytime, this fun tale is sure to produce laughs and creative spinoffs.


This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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