Here’s a hilarious book from 1959 that exemplifies the best of the genre. There’s a solid story, it’s funny, and the illustrations are not some platform for an artist to show off something inexplicable to children.
Tommy becomes a plant sitter, taking care of his neighbors’ plants while they are away on vacation. His father roars, “What’s this nonsense?” as he trips over the plants around the house. Tommy reminds his Dad that he could do whatever he wanted that summer since they weren’t going on vacation.
I love that Tommy’s parents are negative about his zeal (“How terrible,” his mother says, when she sees all the plants) but tolerate the growing jungle nonetheless. There’s a double-paged spread in the middle of the book about a nightmare Tommy has about his plants, and if you read this book as a child you’ll doubtless remember this scene.
There’s nothing better than hearing your child laugh out loud at a story. In the dream, all the neighbors are crying “Where are my plants? Where are my plants?” When Tommy wakes up, his father is late for work shouting, “Where are my pants? Where are my pants?”
It all works out in the end and everyone is blissfully happy. Gene Zion, the author, died in 1975. He and his then wife, Margaret Bloy Graham, who illustrated this book, were perhaps most popular for the Harry the Dirty Dog series. They won a few Caldecott honors, too. ABZ