If I owned as many plastic bugs, letters, numbers, dice, marbles, dolls, blocks, dollhouse furniture, and Matchbox cars that Valorie Fisher does - and at times it feels like I do - those objects would be broken, tangled, mangled, and covered in dust, not bright and sweet and clean like the hundreds (thousands?) of little treasures in this book.
Not that this is important or will contribute to your enjoyment of Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five, it's just an extra image to conjure. Valorie Fisher's living room, I bet, isn't carpeted with this toy mulch; nor are her plastic roosters living with their plastic kin in the bottom of a plastic bin that has not been excavated SINCE THESE KIDS WERE THREE I mean come on can't we get rid of SOME of this stuff?!
On the other hand, I will bet her house isn't some hyper-organized scrapbooker's heaven, either. I bet it's adorable. I used to know a couple who had decorated the rooms in their house in themes: there was the Maya Room, with frescoes and faux Pre-Columbian statues; and the Fresnel Room, papered in plastic Fresnel lenses. The fireplace in their kitchen was a mosaic of bottle caps, and the mantel was a parade of hundreds of salt and pepper shakers.
I'm a little distracted. We had an earthquake yesterday, it's possible you heard about it. Nobody was hurt, power and water stayed on, looks like we're going to have to have our chimney rebuilt la la la I'm not thinking about that right now... and as I walked around the house picking up framed photographs and art from the floor where they had fallen, I thought of my friends and their house full of knicknacks. What a mess I bet it is over there. My office is floor-to-ceiling books, and when the house started shaking I remember making a very specific wish that I not be buried under them. If Valorie Fisher keeps her doodad collections in her studio on shelves, she might have been buried under half a ton of particulated kitsch.
That's no way to go.
So, later in the day I was hanging out on the couch with our neighbor kid, Boniface, who is five. Bon's nom de blog is borrowed from the little boy with the face of an angel in Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord, but also from Bon Scott, the fun-loving frontman of AC/DC.
"You're five, right?" I asked Boniface, fishing Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five off the coffee table.
"Yeah," he says, eyeing me suspiciously.
"So, maybe you know everything in this book already. Wanna check?"
"Okay," he shrugs.
His father reports that just after the earthquake shook the house, and before his dad had time to react, Boniface came to find him. "What was that?" he asked, his eyes wide and shining. There's no rattling this kid.
So the book starts with numbers:
Whether we were counting up the ladybugs or tracing the numbers with our fingers, numbers were a piece of cake for Bon.
Ms. Fisher also reckons that by the time one is five, one should be familiar with opposites:
By this point in the book, Boniface was in it to win it, and we could spend more time deciphering the pictures.
"What are these dolls doing?"
"And what are they doing down here?"
"They're doing it on their heads!"
"What's the difference between exercising, and exercising on your head?"
"Exercising on your head is hard! You can't do that!"
"So, exercising standing on your feet?"
And these aren't merely inverted photographs - look at the shadows and better yet, look at the expressions on the dolls' faces!
By the end, we were ready to take on the whole alphabet:
Some of the serif fonts gave Boniface some trouble, but the objects were good clues. I will take this opportunity to mention how very extremely much I love Fisher's ABC book, Ellsworth's Extraordinary Electric Ears. If you love dollhouses, alliteration, toys, dioramas, the 1950's, puns, sorting things, or the Latin alphabet, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of that book. It's a keeper: you'll find something new every time you open it.
There are also shapes, seasons, weather, and colors. Boniface has a favorite color: it's red, orange, blue and green. He will not commit to a more specific choice.
In an uncertain world, even a sunny, beautiful day can shake you out of your comfort zone and crack your chimney. At such times, it is good to know that we may rely on certain facts: yellow and blue make green; "flamingo" starts with an "f"; the opposite of "empty" is "full"; and Valorie Fisher makes beautiful, charming books that kids and grownups love.