This simple little tale is like a short feast for children’s imagination, and I say that for two main reasons. First, the poem itself–a collection of couplets with an “I spy” bent that help the kids search through the illustrations for the next hidden character–combines a number of classic nursery rhymes and tales that every child should know. Since recognizing the names of the characters requires a brief knowledge of the old nursery rhymes themselves, it therefore also encourages that knowledge. So really, it’s like a well-drafted teaser for Mother Goose, and I’m sure that she’s sitting somewhere pleased to get the attention.
Second, the pictures illustrating these couplets are delicious, colorful, and absolutely studyable. Whichever Ahlberg painted these scenes, I’m not entirely sure, but I’d be interested in finding more of his or her works. There’s no laziness or corner-cutting in the artwork, from what I can see, and I am sure that these pictures will stick in your child’s mind long after the book itself is forgotten—much like a particular series I recall from my own childhood, though I can’t think of their names.
As a read-aloud book, it will certainly capture your 3-4 year old’s imagination and encourage their investigative powers. As you read, ask them to tell you where the hidden characters are, rather than simply pointing them out. And when you’re done reading the book, you can then invite them to play a true game of “I spy with my little eye” in the room. Such an activity is perfect for reviewing colors, shapes, prepositions and–if your kids are like mine–patience and persistence.