Do you ever get something in your head and end up chanting or singing and dancing your way around your empty house, possibly scooping up your poor, defenseless kitty in the process? Don’t worry, I won’t make you answer that. But I will reveal the full depths of my own embarrassment: for me, this morning, it was Jamberry, written and illustrated by Bruce Degen (I link to Porter Square Books, the marvellous, well-curated store where I bought my copy). After reading it to the Changeling a few times this weekend, I couldn’t get it out of my head and spent the morning dancing around the living room, stumbling over Calico Critters, and swinging my patient cat through the air while chanting: “One berry/ Two Berry/ Pick me a blueberry!”
This was when I had a “click” moment. I should know by now never to doubt my mother when she makes a remark about a children’s book, but when she compared Here Babies, There Babies to Jamberry I confess that my thought was, “Really? I mean, they’re both rhyming stories, but so is Jillian Jiggs, for example, and, well, I just don’t see it.” But after I read Here Babies, There Babies to the Changeling last week we spent a few days, as usual, chanting about babies in the most random places. “I see a baby!” the Changeling would call from her stroller. “Here babies, there babies…” and off she’d go. That’s when Jamberry ever so gently started to nudge my brain again.
Then the Changeling started to play “going under the bridge” as she ducked under her stroller handlebar. “And over the dam,” I went on, “Looking for berries, berries for jam!” Next thing you know, we’re in full-on Jamberry mode: we read it a few times, and our natural mode of discourse seamlessly moved from Here Babies, There Babies to Jamberry. We speak in berry rhymes (Merry rhymes, fairy rhymes, prattle in berry rhymes! Sorry, folks, that one wasn’t even any good, was it?), we sing strawberries, we dance in meadows of strawberry jam… um, I mean in the living room. It’s jubilantly moved in and taken over.
What is it about these books? Why do they take over in a way that other charmingly rhyming books don’t? There are lovely rhyming books, such as Each, Peach, Pear, Plum or Jillian Jiggs, books I desperately want to write about here. They entertain when you read them, and then nestle nicely back onto the shelf when you’re through. They don’t take over your tongue and make you dance in your sheepy pyjamas for the next day.
Partly, of course, it may be a question of metre: Jamberry‘s initial dactyls (“One berry/ Two berry/ Pick me a blueberry.”) rumble along like a folk dance to a drum, but then swap out for longer lines, most of which end with a bouncy stressed syllable: “Under the bridge/ And over the dam/ Looking for berries/ Berries for jam.” This slight shift sweeps you along with the canoe in the picture, and if you don’t find yourself swinging your child on your knees? Well, that probably means you decided to swing your child in your arms instead, right? Right? You’ve gotta move with this one, you really have.
And that’s because this little story here isn’t about the story. Like Here Babies, There Babies where the emphasis is on the babies around you, not on a specific tale, Jamberry does have characters and a plot of sorts, but the emphasis is elsewhere: on jammy jubilation. I don’t think I’ve ever read it without laughing at least a little at one point or another. The beat and the song of it, the increasingly zany pictures, the berry-stained fingers and mouths, and the sudden urge to grab a pail and find some berries… well, that’s what this is about. You read it and feel celebratory. You read it and feel warm sun and sweet berries. You read it and sing. You read it and dance.
Oh, and there’s also a boy in there, and he meets a bear and they pick some berries. Not really sure about how the bear has a hat, but he seems like a nice bear. And I think that maybe CPS should check on the kid’s family because he seems to be seeing elephants skating on raspberry jam, which is, in my experience, unusual.
You see? This is not a book where you should, as it were, focus on the story. Sing it, move to it, dance your kid around to it– but, for the love of God, check your logic at the door. (Which is, of course, where it differs from Here Babies, There Babies, initially leading me to doubt the wisdom of my mother. That book feels intensely real, leading its own singsong verses to blend into the world around it.)
I’d add one last note here: Jamberry‘s fantastical celebration of berries is so very zany, so ebullient, and so jubilant that it really has a tendency to break through barriers and take over. As I said, it takes over language and makes you hum it over and over. It makes you use words like “ebullient.” It also takes over seasons. It might be February (albeit a very warm February), but it feels like June when you read Jamberry. It’s really the polar opposite of Moominland Midwinter, which, as I noted feels like the epitome of winter. Moominland Midwinter I only ever feel like reading when it’s starkly, icily, snowily cold. Jamberry? It makes February into June and has me wondering where I can get strawberries that taste like something.
What does the Changeling think? “Berries for jam!” she cries, flinging her hands up. Does she eat jam? No, absolutely not. Never, ever, ever. (She won’t touch ice cream or candy, either. I’m thinking of asking the doctor if she’s OK, and what else we can use as bribery.) But she does love the pictures, and she does love the words, and the animals, and berries.
So, what can I say? Even if you don’t have a kid handy, get out your copy, and start dancing at your own Jamberry bacchanal!