Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Spider
Illustrated by Harry Bliss
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Most five year olds don't have a steady source of income.
That's why the dirty little secret of picture book publishing is that grown-ups buy the books. And that's probably why we sometimes come across books that feel more like they were made for us to purchase than our children to relish.
I find myself drawn to Doreen Cronin's books. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (reviewed on this site) is a hoot. But if you don't have some knowledge about organized labor - and I think we can agree that few kindergarteners are union members - a fair amount of the book's joy can go right over your head until you start explaining.
The best selling Duck for President has this problem multiplied. Adults will cackle. Children are apt to feel left behind.
But with Diary of a Worm, a School Library Journal Best Book, Ms. Cronin has hit the sweet spot. This is a book that children and their parents can take equal joy in.
Actually in diary form, Diary of a Worm that has more of a theme than a story. This book puts the reader firmly in a worm's shoes - that is, if a worm had shoes.
Worm is clearly a youngster, easily imagined to be your child's age. He attends school, he spends a lot of time playing, he's learning to steer clear of sidewalks where kids are playing hopscotch.
Of course, his school isn't quite like your child's school. It's underground, and you have to remember not to eat your homework.
And while it's a school for worms, Worm does have friends outside the species. Spider is a close pal, and it's important to note that while they have their differences in physicality and background, they manage to bridge the gulf and be close.
Your child will learn some facts about worms - presented in highly fanciful fashion - but most importantly your child learns what it's like to be someone else. That's an important bit of social education.
Illustrator Harry Bliss has a great time depicting Worm's world. Worms of course are armless and legless, but Bliss knows how to convey physicality without appendages. I know that I'll be chuckling over his depiction of worm Secret Service agents for awhile.
Know also that Cronin and Bliss followed up Diary of a Worm with Diary of a Spider, a worthwhile book in its own right.
This Publishers Weekly Best Book clearly keeps to the form of the original, with a focus on the same Spider who appeared in the first book.
Worm makes an appearance, and Diary of a Spider focuses more on cross-cultural friendship than does Worm's book. A third child character, Fly, plays an important part in this story, and there are more lessons here to be learned about the differences that could separate us but needn't.
Spiders, after all, eat worms, so there are real issues to be overcome. You'll never forget the look on Fly's mom's face when she comes to pick her daughter up from a play date only to find her stuck in the Spider family's web. Spider and his mom are trying to desperately free her, while Grampa - who thinks flies make better meals than friends - laughs in the background.
Of course, Fly has her own book too now. If you have a daughter, that might be the one to start with.
Great fun. Great lessons.
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