Saturday, April 11, 2009

Review of Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley

Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley. Illustrated by Gavin Bishop. Kane/Miller, 2008.

Gr. 1 – 4

Each chapter in this slim book by the author of the wonderful Chicken Feathers is a little story about two close, if somewhat mismatched, friends. Their first meeting is rather antagonistic – Snake has stretched herself rather obliviously across a path in order to sun herself, which incenses Lizard no end. This episode ends well, with Snake inviting Lizard to sun himself next to her and the two chatting up a storm, but the initial conflict sets the stage for many more to come. These two reptiles simply cannot avoid irritating each other.

In my favorite story “The Picnic,” which reminded me very much of mealtimes with certain beloved friends and relations of mine, Snake is grossed out by Lizard’s food and table manners – he gobbles his moths, fried flies, and caterpillars with such gusto that he ends up with fly legs all over his chin. Lizard in turn is horrified when Snake slithers up to a chicken’s nest and happily swallows nine eggs whole. Lizard gasps, “Look at you! I can see the shapes of the eggs inside your skin! Oh! Oh! That really is the most horrible sight!” After he calms down a bit, Lizard muses that perhaps in the future, the two friends should eat with their backs to each other. “Snake didn’t reply. She was fast asleep, curled up under a cactus like a string of striped beads.”

The illustration that accompanies that last line of the story shows the white, black, and orangey-red Snake coiled peacefully on the ground, each of the nine eggs visible as a lump along her body. Each illustration is small, charming, and colored with warm desert hues of brown, blue, orange, and green that look wonderful against the creamy paper. The endpapers depict many desert denizens – insects, a rabbit, a tortoise, various birds – against a warm yellow background.

Readers who love George and Martha, Frog and Toad, and other famous friends will move easily from those easy readers to this stepping-stone chapter book. Snake and Lizard’s friendship illustrates that it is not necessary to always agree – but friends should know how to disagree with kindness. Cowley’s dedication in the front of the book says it all: “To dear Terry who knows that friendship is not made out of sameness but the accommodation of differences.”

This is a funny, cozy book for reading alone or sharing with a friend (or a classroom of friends).

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