There are certain books that seem to call out to from the shelf. During a recent visit to our local library's children section, a book called Rhyming Dust Bunnies didn't just call out, it seemed to chortle. I swear I almost saw it wiggle on the shelf.
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I know my seven year old's sense of humor well. She's always found it hilarious that the little fluffs of dust we sweep up from underneath the kitchen table are called "dust bunnies." Her dad (whose sense of humor she inherited) long ago told her about the old Far Side cartoon where the lady finds a dust rhino instead of a dust bunny. She loved it.
And my little girl, like most children her age, loves rhyming words. When I saw the title of Jan Thomas' picture book, and then saw the goofy brightly colored little creatures on the front (a cross between powder puffs and Star Trek tribbles) I had a feeling we were in for a big giggle-fest that night.
And how! This little picture book delivers on the humor quotient in a big way.
The Running Gag
The simplicity of this picture book keeps it fun. Bold, bright pictures and just a few words per page tell the "story" which is really more of a running joke (literally as well as figuratively). There are only a few scenes that flow together like a handful of comic strips, a feeling reinforced by the fact that all the dialogue (in other words, every bit of the text) is printed in speech bubbles.
The dust bunnies, named Ed, Ned, Ted and Bob, are cute, fluffy little creatures with stubby arms and legs. The cartoonish pictures are digitally rendered: they look like author/illustrator Thomas sketched them with with quick, black strokes and then painted them in a hurry. The dust bunnies have blobby noses, black and white googly eyes, and buck teeth. Despite being dust bunnies, they're highly colorful, each one its own tropical artificial fruit-candy color. They're also talkative little guys, who love to finish each other's sentences and especially to rhyme. Well, all except Bob, as you might guess from his non-rhyming name.
Bob appears doleful at first, the only creature not grinning, and a bit slow on the uptake. My daughter started giggling right off the bat as the gag played itself out, with Ed, Ned, and Ted rhyming words, and Bob offering words that don't rhyme at all. He's always gently chastised by the others "No, Bob..."Look!" does not rhyme with car!" and the looks of consternation on the other dust bunnies' faces make it clear they think his elevator doesn't go all the way to the top.
Ah, but it turns out, in a hilarious twist, that Bob isn't dumb. While his buddies are focused on rhyming, Bob is focused on the world around them. He's watching, and what he sees makes him a bit of a doomsday prophet, which affects his choice of words. You have only to think about what might frighten dust bunnies most in all the world to know what happens next.
Ahh! Broom! As the bunnies flee from their peril (get it? there's the running gag...) they hide, crouching underneath a table, and admit (whew!) how grateful they are to Bob for the warning. Of course, then they start to relax, so much so that rhyming trio begins their cheerful game again. "Okay, so where were we? What rhymes with cat?...sat, pat, rat..." at which point poor Bob shrieks out "vacuum cleaner!" and my daughter practically falls down laughing.
I won't tell you how it ends. That wouldn't be sporting. But I will say that I don't think my seven year old is the only kid who will find this little book very funny. Its silly creatures and absurd sense of humor will likely tickle the funny bone of many a child in the 4-8 age range. The publisher puts it in the 3-5 age range, but I think it will be a lot funnier for a child old enough to understand what actual dust bunnies are, and to appreciate wry humor and silly situations.
Great literature or art, it's not. There's not much of anything educational about it, except for a handful of simple rhyming words. But sometimes you just need laughter. And laughter like this often inspires more imaginative word play. In fact, my daughter was so inspired, she's invented "sequel" scenes to the story. She noted the pattern of the narrative and went with it. In one version Ed, Ted and Ned start rhyming new words, but Bob chimes in with a doleful "dust mop!"
For any children who love dust bunnies, word play or just plain silliness, our family highly recommends Rhyming Dust Bunnies.
Rhyming Dust Bunnies
by Jan Thomas
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009