This review is courtesy of Betty – thanks!
- TITLE: In The Forest
- WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY: Marie Hall Ets
- PAGES: 38
- ISBN: 9780590426435
- Available on Amazon, here.
When I first came across this book, I was at Goodwill looking for discount speculative fiction anthologies. At my neighborhood branch, the SF shelf happens to be next to the children’s shelf. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I was intrigued by In the Forest because of its appearance.
It is immediately apparent that this book comes from a different era. The illustrations are simple black and white drawings which capture the feel of a child’s sketch in their simplicity, but are also marked by the skill and creativity of a seasoned artist. The cover has a very modest layout; a faded green border surrounds a black and white sketch of a small boy leading a parade of upright animals. None of the bright colors or flashy marketing tools often found on modern books.
Although the book was in fairly good condition, it looked like an antique. I opened it and discovered that this copy was, in fact, the 1987 reprint of a book published in 1944. I don’t know that I have ever read my daughters a book from the 40s, and this particular copy was older than I am, which was an incredible feeling on its own. I doubt this book is a common item at Goodwill, but luckily it is still in print and available from most major book retailers, with the original illustrations at that!
Super Speedy Summary
The story is about a young boy who goes for a walk in the forest and encounters a variety of animals along the way. The first animal is a lion, but instead of threatening the boy, the lion asks to join the boy on his walk. Each animal the child encounters makes the same request, and each animal brings with it some kind of item. The lion a comb, the elephants some clothes, the bears peanuts and jam, the kangaroos drums, and so on. By the time they reach a picnic table, they have become a musical animal parade.
Upon reaching the picnic table, the boy and his new animal friends eat some snacks and play a variety of games, some of which I don’t think anyone has played in the real world for decades. Fun fact: I learned that the 1944 version of ‘Duck, duck, goose’ was called ‘Drop-The-Handkerchief!’ Besides reviving ‘Drop-The-Handkerchief,’ which I personally think should remain ‘Duck, Duck, Goose,’ this part of the story offers great opportunities for playing related games with the kiddos, such as creating a parade with stuffed animals, or creating animals masks. I read online that a composer actually created a soundtrack to this novel several years after its first publication in 1944, with each instrument in his orchestra representing a different animal. I would love to get ahold of this recording and create our own forest animal parade!
The final game the boy and his new animal friends play is the timeless classic Hide-And-Seek. The boy, of course, is it (yep, the tagger was still called it way back in 1944). When the boy opens his eyes, the animals have been replaced by his father, who tells him it is time to go.
In The Forest won the Caldecott award in 1945, and is still popular enough to remain in print today. Not a lot children’s books enjoy such longevity; this alone speak volumes about the quality of the book. It is definitely an intelligent and thought-provoking read. I caught several mythological references throughout the book, such as the lion combing his hair before joining the boy on his walk. Hair is a classic symbol of power, so this gesture, which reads on the surface as an endearing eccentricity, symbolizes that the lion has tamed himself. The book is rife with references like these, but they do not intrude upon the story. I appreciated that the book was completely accessible to children, its main audience, but contained points of interest for adults as well.
The book features large, black and white drawings that fill most of each page, and only a line or two of text below each picture, making it an ideal read aloud book for very young children like mine. The story itself is written with a subtle lyricism. It is nothing like Dr.Seuss’ loud, obvious rhymes. Now, don’t get me wrong: I adore Dr. Seuss, but it’s important to provide our kids with variety, and this book is definitely different. The sentences do not follow a strict rhyme scheme. Its poetic cadence relies instead upon repetition and the long breaks afforded by the landscape-format illustrations, many of which span across the binding to fill two pages.
Honestly, I found the less structured cadence jarring at first, but when I read it aloud to my girls, I realized that its rhythm is best heard aloud. It is written in such a way that the reader naturally falls into the written tempo, even if the mind has difficulty finding it when reading silently.
‘In The Forest’ reminded me of my favorite children’s book, ‘ Where The Wild Things Are.’ So much so, in fact, that I actually wondered if Maurice Sendak was inspired by this book. Both books feature a child embarking on a journey alone, who encounters creatures which should be dangerous but instead become playmates, and they both define a clear separation between the world experienced by children and the world perceived by adults. Even the illustrations in both books share the same masterful yet childlike dichotomy. I think ‘In The Forest’ would be a great book for anybody who enjoys ‘Where The Wild Things Are,’ which, in my experience, is everyone!
My daughters, like most kids, love stories that involve children interacting with anthropomorphic animals. This one did not disappoint. My daughters, aged 3 and 1.5, were both rapt while I was reading to them, and when I was finished they each took long turns looking intently through the pages, their eyes drawn to the simple, whimsical illustrations.
There is a lot more I could say about this book. It is such an intelligent read that I truly could sit and unpack it for hours. For example, what is going on with the rabbit, who doesn’t speak and never leaves the boy’s side even to play Hide-and-Seek, except when the boy’s father appears? Is this character an homage to “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which was first published 22 years prior to “In The Forest?” Or, considering that rabbits are symbols of luck and new beginnings, is this quiet comradery meant to cement the coming-of-age aspect of this story? If you tried to explain all this to your child, she would probably just run off to go play with some blocks instead. But I think that introducing our children to symbolic complexity through fun, simple stories is an excellent way to help prepare them to understand the literature they will read when they are older. ‘In the Forest’ certainly meets that criterion.
Overall, I thought this was an engaging, unique, and multifaceted book. It contains the magical elements and quirky animals which children love, but is also packed with symbolism and references that will keep adults interested as well. The bold, antiquated illustrations lend the book a rare charm. I think that modern children will like it because it looks so different from most of the books they are reading these days. ‘In The Forest’ captures the sweet, melancholic confusion that we all experience growing up, and also offers a glimpse into the past without feeling archaic or boring. The old has truly become new again with Marie Hall Ets’ ‘In The Forest.’ I believe that this is a book which can be enjoyed by people in any stage of life, and I would certainly recommend it for any bookshelf.
About the Reviewer
Elizabeth Brico is a fiction writer, feminist blogger, playwright, and occasional poet with an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. She authors Betty’s Battleground, a blog about living and parenting with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can read some of her fiction on Niume and Scriggler. She has three children, and the poem she wrote for her non-verbal autistic son will be featured on Seattle’s King County/4Culture Poetry on Buses in 2017.
Wow, this book has really got me thinking about introducing more “vintage” books into Addison’s collection. It is rich with so much value – and I cannot help but think it seems so meaty in detail and references because of the time. One thing I love doing is tracing back adult literature to the “dawn” of the idea – what inspired the work I am currently reading. I’ve never thought to do this for children’s books but Betty’s review made me consider this as a fun scavenger hunt style activity.
One thing I stress to parents is how important it is for us to be engaged in the books we are reading with our children. The more interesting the topic is for us, the more we will pay attention to the activity and the more in depth conversations and connections we can make with our kids. While In the Forest might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the way Betty experienced the book is important to understand. Finding our own books that send us on an adventure down the rabbit hole to find the threads or that make us think ourselves will keep us interested. Books that I personally connect with in this way include scientific references that I enjoy validating or political ties I like to dissect. Two books I can think of that I connect with very personally that create good discussion in our family are: Quarks by Ruth Spiro and Teal by Renee Galvin.
Finding books that are rich with symbolism and references – even if they are way above your little one’s head – are useful for starting the discussion. In the future when they are ready to dig deep into these topics, they have a bit of context and initial understanding. Also, you may be surprised at how much your children really do pick up on!
Symbolism – Animals – Growing Up
In The Forest is a great book for your collection if you are looking to incorporate the above mentioned topics in your child’s bookshelf.
I’ll be back next week with a book review of my own – it’s been hard to pick one to review (we’ve grabbed so many good ones lately) but I think you’ll love what we are planning to share. By the way, if you’re not on the list – you’re going to want to join right now. There’s fun stuff a-brewing and you do not want to miss it. Click here to join.
What was the last “vintage” children’s book you read?
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