* Prices may differ from that shown
Last week I popped into the library with my daughter to return a DVD which was due back. As I was in a bit of a rush I hadn't intended checking any books out, but agreed my daughter could get a couple if she was very quick. I was in such a hurry I didn't actually take any notice of what she had picked up, and it wasn't until later that evening when one was dumped in my lap with the demand "Read this" that I took a closer look, and realised one her choices was by the author of the legendary children's book, The Very Hungary Caterpillar.
Mister Seahorse is written and illustrated by Eric Carle. Mrs Seahorse has just laid her eggs, and now Mr Seahorse takes over to care for the egg's until they are hatched. As he travels through the Ocean he meets other sea creatures, some of which are also fathers caring for their small offspring.
Like The Very Hungary Caterpillar, this is a very simple tale. The charm of this book however comes from the beautiful illustrations and the opportunity to introduce and discuss nature with a small child in a way they will understand.
Mothers are generally still thought of as the main care givers to children, and most pre school books still reflect this. In Mr Seahorse children will discover that fathers have a role to play too, and as it's factual it doesn't feel contrived at all. My daughter was amazed to discover that not only is it the male seahorse who nurtures the eggs, but also other breeds of fish (I also felt I learned something, as apart from vaguely knowing about the seahorse, I had no idea about the other fish!). For example, Mr stickleback builds the nest for Mrs stickleback to lay her eggs, then he watches over them, while Mr Tilipia carries his eggs in his mouth until they are hatched. This brought up quite a bit of discussion from my daughter. Firstly, she was intrigued to learn the factual side of things, asking if seahorse daddy's really carried the eggs and looked after them. We were able to talk about how all animals are different and special.
Secondly, she asked the very amusing question of whether her own Father had looked after her as an egg. Of course this was very funny and cute, but also gave us an opportunity to talk about her dad's role when she was a baby. I didn't feel it was necessary to go deeply into her creation, she is only 4 and 3/4's after all, but I was able to talk about the night she was born. I'd actually been sent home from hospital just 2 hours after her birth, still quite high on pain relief and extremely tired. That night her dad had stayed up all night while I slept taking care of her, changing her nappy and feeding her. While I didn't go into so much detail with her, I think she was really pleased to hear about her Dad looking after her so carefully when she was so tiny. I think it was particularly nice for her to hear the story as her Father and I are now separated and I liked being able to reinforce the importance of her father in her life. Besides having a fascinating science theme, I really think in an age where Fathers are at times more hands on, yet at others probably feel more redundant and undervalued than ever before, the book has great emotional value too.
While I may have made it seem quite complex, the writing is ideally suited to a preschool child of around 3-6 years old. The language used is very simple and the characters are humanised with Mr and Mrs titles to appeal to children. It's quite a short book, with just 22 pages and there's not a lot of text, around 2 sentences to a double page. Eric Carle manages to a get a lot of interesting information over very simply and effectively, without alienating my daughter. She was intrigued by the story and found parts funny, such as Mr Kurtus carrying his eggs on his head, and I definitely feel it piqued her curiosity in natural history as well as allowing her to question the stereotypes she is influenced by regularly.
As I mentioned above, the illustrations are beautiful. The pictures are vividly coloured and immediately appealed to my daughter, who loves anything bright and colourful. Readers of The Very Hungary Caterpillar will remember the joy and novelty at the pages with holes, where the caterpillar has eaten through. In the same vain, this book also has a unique quirk which will appeal to children. Every other page has a sea creature camouflaged behind an additional acetate page decorated with seaweed or rocks. Not only is this very effective at recreating an underwater atmosphere, but my daughter had lots of fun trying to work out what was lurking beneath.
Despite owning and loving The Very Hungary Caterpillar as a child, I wasn't aware of any other books written by Eric Carle until my daughter grabbed this book at the library. My daughter and I found it every bit as charming and lovely and I would recommend this addition to your child's book case. I think my daughter made an excellent choice at the library, we both enjoyed reading and discussing this book and feel we both learned something from it too.
~ Other Information ~
Mr Seahorse by Eric Carle