Mark Teague's LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
I don't run across many children's picture books that go over my head. But I started reading LaRue for Mayor without
a) knowing that it was the third book in a series, and
b) paying close enough attention to a particular detail of the picture on the title page.
That was enough to leave me confused about one major point!
Teague's books about canine Ike LaRue are that challenging, and for that reason, I'm highly impressed. Though I'm reviewing the third book in the series, I'm going to recommend that you start with the first, Dear Mrs. La Rue: Letters From Obedience School.
What makes Teague's LaRue books so challenging? Well, how about this: a proper discussion requires some knowledge of Akira Kurosawa's 1950 Japanese film, Rashomon!
Rashomon was revolutionary in that it told of an unpleasant incident as related from five different viewpoints. What really happened can only be determined by the viewer after seeing events through the eyes of all five characters. It's a lesson in the subjective nature of reality.
So is LaRue for Mayor.
I count three different perspectives in this book.
Firstly there are the dry newspaper accounts of newsworthy occurrences in the town of Snort City during a race for mayor. Campaign events are depicted as being regularly disrupted by a gang of marauding canines.
Secondly, there's the viewpoint of Ike himself, through a rather formal written correspondence he maintains with his injured owner, whom he addresses as Mrs. LaRue. Ike's version of events are supported by black and white illustrations that occur in his imagination.
Finally, there are full color illustrations of events as they are actually occurring.
From all this oft-conflicting data, it is up to the reader (hopefully with a helpful parent at his or her side) to make sense of things. The book is actually a puzzle, very much a different thing from the straightforward narratives your child (and you!) are used to.
Teague doesn't tell us directly where the truth lies; in fact, in a note on the inside flap Ike himself warns us not to take the colorful illustrations as truth.
LaRue for Mayor is a book that, by its nature, teaches critical thinking. I think parents and children will find themselves reading and discussing what's being presented as it's being presented, rather than reading first and discussing afterwards. You could even think of the LaRue books as your child's first detective novels, as you ferret out together what really happened.
Ike LaRue is a master of misrepresentation, and this could lead to some wonderful discussions of how sometimes, perhaps, a person's words shouldn't always be taken at face value, and how two warring siblings might be able to present two different versions of events.
In short, I recommend LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail, as well as the aforementioned
This is the kind of reading that could open up some valuable new connections among neurons!
And hey, while we're talking about this particular kind of storytelling, let me tell you about another piece of art I'm particularly fond of. It's a movie!
While Rashomon is definitely not for the kiddies, there's a terrific Rashomon-like film aimed directly at the kids, called Hoodwinked.
This delightful animated story examines the story of Little Red Riding Hood by trying to determine whether a crime occurred at Grandma's, and so we're treated to the separate viewpoints of Grandma, the wolf, a detective, and Little Red herself.
I can't recommend Hoodwinked highly enough, for the same reason I'm recommending the LaRue books: books (and movies) too often teach our children to take their stories at face value - no questioning, no interpretation. But now you have some wonderful opportunities to engage critical thinking skills as well. Take advantage!
Webmaster's note: One other Mark Teague book has been reviewed on this site: Pigsty.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
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