Bibbit is an energetic little frog. He leaps around the page so far, fast and frequently that even the gentle watercolours that paint him are unable to stay within his lines. There’s something about this whimsical spillage in the artwork of Taiwanese writer and illustrator Bei Lynn – its unfazed, unflustered childishness – that reveals the soul of Bibbit Jumps, a book that will leave young readers with the same satisfied smile as classics such as Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit.
The chapter book, newly translated by Helen Wang, is a tale in two halves. The first is a series of eight very short stories, which see Bibbit and his sister Little Frog wander dreamily through settings such as picnics, birthday parties and swimming lessons. The structure mirrors Bibbit’s own jumping technique, where he takes a few little hops to warm up his feet before embarking on a giant leap that sends him soaring through the air. In this case, the leap is the final chapter ‘An Adventure’, which takes up a third of the book’s 75 pages. This progression will surely help emerging readers, who can ease into the character with the early snapshots of the frog’s life before taking on a more extended and flowing narrative.
This final story showcases the philosophical bent of this amiable but anxious amphibian, with the chapter-opening by asking: ‘How far is far away?’ and ‘How much do you have to dream about something for it to be called a dream?’. These are the sort of little questions that grow big thoughts in the minds of every age.
Everything about the book feels playful, from the text’s use of sound – ‘boings’ and ‘splashes’ abound – to how the pictures leap across the page, around and through the text. The layout gives dynamism to the serene stories, like the giggling ripples when Bibbit dives into a still pond.
Behind the stories are clear messages that are very worthy of discussion with young (and older) children, the importance of sibling relationships, the power of perseverance, the primacy of intention over outcome, facing fears, the virtue of patience and the admirability of loyalty in the face of uncertainty.
Bibbit Jumps is a rare gem in that it is a quality chapter book that works as an independent read for children in years two and three. It can also be joyously shared with younger audiences and reads aloud beautifully (it has become a firm bedtime favourite of my four-year-old).
In the end, beneath the bouncing and the brightness, Bibbit shows that while not everyone can do everything right away, with clear eyes and a full heart, things can always work out in the end.
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