Prather's Pick: “Dozens of Cousins”

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Diane Prather

During the summer, some families travel to reunions where kids meet aunts, uncles and cousins. That’s what “Dozens of Cousins” — this week’s picture book for children — is all about.

Author Shutta Crum knows all about cousins. According to her biography in the book, Crum “grew up with eighteen aunts and uncles and so many cousins she couldn’t count them all.”

The humorous artwork in the book, done by editorial cartoonist and book illustrator David Catrow, captures all of the rollicking fun of a reunion.

As with many picture books, the story actually begins with an illustration on a credit page at the beginning of the book. Two wild animal families notice a car as it travels along a road at night. A pair of owls and their babies are perched up on the branch of a tree, and a buck and doe and their two fawns stand next to the road. A bunch of suitcases are tied down on top of the car. The human family is headed for a family reunion!

Perhaps it’s this same family that has just pulled up in front of a big house when the story begins. Mom waves from the passenger side of the car and Dad is all smiles. The reader notices that there are three children sitting in the backseat of the car.

Some family members already have gathered on the lawn in front of the house, and they are waving to four kids who are running to meet them. A white dog with orange spots runs with them, and there’s so much excitement that two chickens run for their lives. One of the children, who looks to be a toddler, gets knocked down in the process, and his glasses go flying.

This little child appears in each illustration in the book. He has a little dark brown hair on the very top and back of his head, but otherwise he is sort of bald. This little guy is dressed in a red and white-striped shirt and diaper-like pants, and he keeps a teddy bear with him at all times.

The two hens (one white and one brown) and the white dog also appear in several of the illustrations. So does a big black cat.

The story is all about a “beastie family reunion.” It’s written in verse (that doesn’t rhyme), with a focus on the word “beastie.” For example, there’s beastie food, beastie arms and toes, beastie courage and even beastie jammies.

One thing is for sure — it takes beastie courage to greet an aunt with orange hair piled high, really high, on top of her head. She’s one big lady. When she holds out her arms, two little children look a little nervous about approaching her. But pretty soon, there’s lots of hugging, tickling and laughing as aunts and uncles meet all of the kids.

Then the cousins all join up and, typical to a bunch of kids, things get wilder by the minute. Thirteen cousins of all ages burst through the door of the house, packing dirt in on their bare feet. The poor little toddler gets knocked over again, and his glasses fly off, but he manages to hang onto his teddy bear.

Then it’s off to the creek. Frogs peer out of the water. One frog perches on the toddler’s head while a crawdad hangs onto one of the teddy bear’s paws. Nobody notices the “Keep Out” sign next to the creek. The kids are too busy jumping in the water, covering their heads with mud and building forts.

The reader notices a white house in the background with a little white dog nearby, and pretty soon Grandpa and Grandma have to intervene. The neighbors have complained so the kids, now very quiet, apologize. But the grandparents love the children and they show it by taking off their shoes and socks and sitting right down in the water. They’re two proud grandparents!

There is a lot more to the reunion and this book. It’s heartwarming and lovable, just like families.

“Dozens of Cousins” is published by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2013). It costs $16.99 in hardcover. It’s also a new book in the children’s room at the Craig Branch of the Moffat County Libraries.

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