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Shen Roddie - Sidelights

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Shen Roddie told SATA: "If my mother is to be believed, I started making up tales and spewing them out when I was a pesky thing of five. I would mercilessly regale her guests with peculiar stories while she fixed the coffee. This progressed to telling real-life stories as a journalist on the national daily, which memorably included interviewing the crew of Apollo 17—the last men to walk on the moon.

"I moved on to a different audience when I worked for an oil company, producing in-house journals that kept staff in touch with each other. This involved my to-ing and fro-ing in ferries between the mainland and the pretty island refinery. I then went on to freelance for radio, presenting programmes which included modern-day innovations—still my favourite subject today.

"But my best and most rewarding audience has to be the Under Fives. Get it right, and their little faces light up. Get it wrong and I've lost them!

"Please Don't Chat to the Bus Driver was directly triggered by a trip to London on an Oxford coach. At the last pick-up point, up hopped a large and garrulous lady who sat behind the driver and engaged him all the way to London! With all that head-bobbing going on, we were left wondering if we were ever going to arrive at all. But we did! Which was just as well, as any of the incidents in the story could have happened!

"Many of my texts tend to focus on short, snappy storylines which offer the young reader a different way of seeing things. I am happy with a picture book that lifts their horizons, challenges them verbally while keeping them interested and amused."

A Singaporean who lives in the United Kingdom, Roddie has drawn an international audience with her lively animal tales, some of which feature interactive pop-up features and the kind of tactile pages made popular by Pat the Bunny. In Chicken Pox!, for instance, youngsters can manipulate flaps to make the poor, suffering baby chick scratch her itches. Hatch, Egg, Hatch!: A Touch-and-Feel Action Flap Book combines flaps and textures as a mother hen muddles through the process of encouraging her egg to hatch. The popular Mrs. Wolf features a title character who rises to the occasion when a lamb accidentally tumbles into her lair. As readers help Mrs. Wolf bathe her visitor, and then work with her in a pop-up kitchen, the frightened lamb assumes the worst—right until the end.

Roddie has received enthusiastic reviews for her "touch and feel" books. "Never has an egg seemed as endearing," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer of Hatch, Egg, Hatch! Another Publishers Weekly critic gave Chicken Pox! a starred review, calling the book "a perfect Rx for convalescents and other fractious youngsters . . . a catchy concept." Yet another Publishers Weekly correspondent felt that Mrs. Wolf "would succeed even without the clever paper engineering." The reviewer concluded that Mrs. Wolf is "a book to savor."

Some of Roddie's tales impart gentle lessons to the youngest listeners and are meant to be shared with a parent or other nurturing adult. In Tamborina's Troubles: A Pop-Up Storybook Tamborina the turtle is trying to get to her dance recital on time, but she just cannot refuse when other animals ask for a ride on her back. Before she knows it, Tamborina is carrying a dizzying array of animals, from a fox and a moose to an elephant, plus their band instruments. Needless to say, a bad spill ensues, and Tamborina finally learns to say "No"—and nicely. Baby Chick and her mother make their third appearance in Help, Mama, Help!: A Touch-and-Feel Pull-Tab Pop-Up Book. This time through the imaginative tabs and pop-ups, Chick learns to overcome fear by seeking out Mama's reassurance and then just simply being brave. A Publishers Weekly critic concluded: "Baby Chick may need some help, but Roddie and [illustrator Frances] Cony have their formula down pat."

Too Close Friends, published in England as Best of Friends, explores a humorous situation that might be new to young readers. Hippo and Pig live next door to one another, and they are fast friends—until they decide to cut the hedge between their houses so they can see each other all the time. That is when Pig discovers, to her horror, that Hippo chews his toenails. Hippo, for his part, is appalled by Pig's eating habits and her too-tight tutu. Good will is restored only when the hedge grows back. "The joy of friendship—and of privacy—is dramatized in this gentle, funny picture book," observed Hazel Rochman in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly critic declared that the book would leave children "chuckling while they learn a gentle lesson about respecting the privacy of even their best pals."

An impatient hare decides to craft a sand sculpture in Sandbear. Noticing a mound of sand that is slightly bear-shaped, Hare adds a few quick touches to make the mound more bear-like. Hare is in a hurry, though, so his efforts are slapdash: He uses grass for an arm and a piece of driftwood for a nose, and the legs he creates aren't strong enough to hold an actual bear. Nevertheless, when Hare goes on his way, the affable Sandbear comes to life and follows, just in time to save Hare's life. Realizing the value of the friendship, Hare takes more care when he rebuilds Sandbear a second time. "Sandbear is a delightful, wistful, appealing creature who will enchant children," maintained Robin L. Gibson in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor deemed the work "a magical tale about imagination, creativity and responsibility," concluding that a "lovely, understated joy radiates from the final scene."

Toes Are to Tickle and You're Too Small aim at the toddler audience. In Toes Are to Tickle, an enterprising and curious tot and his parents find uses for everything, from trees "to hide behind," peas "for counting," and milk "to give to the cat." In Booklist, Hazel Rochman commented that the title "evokes the toddler's world in all its fumbling, laughter, hugs, and messy comfort." Tad the mouse, the hero of You're Too Small, just can't seem to do anything without being warned that he's too small by the other, larger animals. The tables are turned, however, when the animals find the barn door locked with their dinner inside. It is Tad who squeezes through a crack to unlock the door—but only after taking the biggest piece of pie. "Most youngsters are quick to welcome a tale about someone little proving the big guys wrong," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. In The Bookseller, Sarah Amond called You're Too Small "a great book for younger readers."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Toes Are to Tickle, p. 1721; February 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Too Close Friends, p. 913; December 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Goodbye, Hello!, p. 741.

Bookseller, February 20, 2004, Sarah Amond, "May Children's Titles," p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1991, review of Hatch, Egg, Hatch!: A Touch-and-Feel Action Flap Book, p. 58; April 13, 1992, review of Animal Stew: A Lift-the-Flap Surprise Book, p. 56; April 5, 1993, review of Chicken Pox!: A Touch-and-Feel Pull-Tab Pop-up Book, p. 74; April 26, 1993, review of The Terrible Itch, p. 76; May 17, 1993, review of Mrs. Wolf, p. 80; May 1, 1995, review of Help, Mama, Help!: A Touch-and-Feel Pull-Tab Pop-Up Book, p. 56; May 22, 1995, review of Tambourina's Troubles: A Pop-Up Story-book, p. 58; May 26, 1997, review of Toes Are to Tickle, p. 84; March 16, 1998, review of Too Close Friends, p. 63; May 6, 2002, review of Sandbear, p. 58; March 15, 2004, review of You're Too Small, p. 74.

School Library Journal, December, 2000, Linda K. Kenton, review of Not Now, Mrs. Wolf!, p. 104; October, 2002, Robin L. Gibson, review of Sandbear, p. 126.

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