Miss Moo Hoo asks all the animals in her nursery class to find a partner and follow her to the woods for a walk. There is a problem, however, because there is an odd number of animals, which means Little Bat Jack doesn’t have a partner. Although he is the smallest animal, he is extremely brave and says he doesn’t mind. They sing as they head towards the woods.
Every so often, one of the animals thinks they can smell, hear, or see something. Miss Moo Hoo is afraid it might be a scary dragon or a tree-climbing lion, but each time it just turns out to be Little Bat Jack. The fourth time, however, she fears it might be a growling bear, and she is right. The bear starts to chase the animals but Little Bat Jack, disguised as a monster, blocks the bear’s path and frightens him off.
The animals are able to sit and have their picnic in peace, and when they set off home it is Little Bat Jack who walks right behind Miss Moo Hoo. Have the other animals noticed that the tree-climbing lion and the troublesome dragon are tagging along behind them too?
David Melling has created a delightful story in Two by Two and a half. It is rather short, but that will suit very young children who do not have a long attention span. There are plenty of different animals, both fierce and tame, to spot as well as a crowd of imaginary rampaging ragamuffins. Melling makes creative use of language, from the little rhyme the animals sing to the descriptive phrases like “wobbling wall of shadow” when they think there is a scary beast up ahead. Various different senses are focused on too: Rabbit hears “a rustle and a bustle”, Duck smells the wind and Sheep sees the wobbling wall. It’s all very cleverly thought out.
The text of Two by Two and a half is set in a large, clear font that is easy to read, especially as it is always on a light-coloured background. The rhyme the animals sing is in a slightly larger font, and the lines curve gently. Occasionally single words such as “lion” or “hooray” are emphasised in a much bigger font. This is an ideal book for reading aloud, but it would be challenging for a young child who is just learning to read. A confident independent reader aged five or six might still enjoy the story.
David Melling always illustrates his picture books himself and creates wonderful characters that suit the story perfectly. Although the story is set in the woods, Melling makes his illustrations full of colour with a blue and yellow dragon and a horde of orangey-yellow ragamuffins. There’s a broken tree trunk that appears to be turning into a dragon, as well as a dry stone wall whose rocks are coming to life and making faces at the little animals. The bear, the lion and the dragon are enormous, but the humorous expressions of all the animals keeps things from being too scary for young children.
Two by Two and a half is a charming, entertaining story. Some may feel it is a little too short, while others may find it is just the right length for children aged between two and four who find it hard to sit still and listen for long. It is an ideal story for talking about different kinds of animals and for learning about the senses of hearing, smell and touch. Children will love the humour in Melling’s illustrations that makes the story seem like a fun-filled adventure. It’s a book that is recommended for all young children except those that crave a longer, more complicated plot.
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