While it's pretty mainstream to find books about cars and such with male protagonists, though, it's somewhat harder to find books about girls who share this obsession. I think that would be a huge point of frustration from me, were I the parent of a daughter. After all, many of us work hard to override the all-too-prevalent messages connecting gender and playthings (ever strolled the aisles of Toys R Us and felt weighed down by the flood of pink and blue?). So when a book comes along that shakes up the mold, I think it's absolutely cause to celebrate.
Tricia Springstubb is just the author to create such a book, having already written some fantastic stories about strong girls (What Happened on Fox Street is one of our favorites!). And Phoebe and Digger, her newest picture book is a worthy addition to her body of work -- no surprise to me to find out that Springstubb is a former children's librarian, she knows what kids want, and need, to read. Plus this is a title that kids will be drawn to right off the bat, with its colorful, large format illustrations that balance realism and cartoonishness to the perfect degree. You can bet I'll be seeking out other examples of illustrator Jeff Newman's work after looking at this one!
With Phoebe, Springstubb gives us a girl who loves her digger fiercely and single-mindedly, much like Sprout loves his collection of engines. Phoebe got Digger under interesting circumstances: "(w)hen Mama got a new baby," we learn, "Phoebe got a new digger". Digger keeps Phoebe company while Mama deals with all the escapades of the baby, many of which Phoebe finds completely terrible. One day, Mama and the baby get on with their boring stuff at the park while Phoebe and Digger start getting some work done. But after an encounter with a "crybaby boy" (he's afraid of the worm Digger found) Phoebe runs into even more trouble, in the form of a bully who snatches Digger away. And Phoebe, who thought she could deal with absolutely everything on her own, suddenly discovers it's pretty great to have family on her side when she needs it (oh, and maybe the baby isn't so bad after all).
I love this title for its humor and its realistic depiction of the sibling struggle. It's pretty natural for a big sister to be a little nonplussed by a new baby, and I appreciate that Springstubb willingly tackles that emotion. And I also like that we have an honest look at how kids feel when a bully comes along - overwhelmed, dwarfed, frustrated and not always ready to ask for help (love that Mama jumps in just at the right moment). This is a terrific springboard to talking about lots of complex topics, feelings and reactions, as well as helping kids discuss what Phoebe could do next time the same kind of kid comes along.
Got a young truck fan at home? Check out this engaging story, because no matter if your kiddo is boy or girl, Phoebe will strike a chord with everyone!
Phoebe & Digger by Tricia Springstubb, published by Candlewick Press
Sample: "Both Phoebe and Digger loved the park. The park had trees and swings and a kindly man who sold frozen treats. But best of all, the park had. . . real dirt."
Bonus: Phoebe & Digger Story Hour Kit from the author's website!