VANILLA ICE CREAM
by Bob Graham – Walker Books, 2014
ages 2 to 8 years / heartwarmers
The butterfly effect, which is really about the inability of man to explain meteorological events, has been seconded in everyday language to remind us that the smallest actions and events can have big impacts.
And while we usually can’t even begin to guess at the genesis of everyday happenstance, Vanilla Ice Cream lets us in on the events that led to a momentous day in the life of one little girl. It’s like seeing ‘the butterfly effect’ in action.
There's a sparrow flitting around a truck-stop in India.
He’s ‘young and curious’ and ‘free to go where he pleases’ and: 'like all wild birds, he follows the food' as he travels across India and across the ocean with a bag of rice.
So that's how a truck-stop sparrow from India finds himself at Café Botanica, where he is pivotal to Edie Irvine, who is also ‘young and curious’, getting her first taste of Vanilla Ice Cream. (Edie's dog is pivotal too, when it chases the sparrow and knocks the ice cream into Edie's lap!)
Perhaps one of the reasons for ‘the butterfly effect’ being such a popular idea is that humans love connections. We love the idea that our actions impact others, and that we are somehow connected to the wide world even in our most mundane daily occupations.
Vanilla Ice Cream beautifully connects Edie and her grandparents (and their dog) with Annisha and Suhani, children who are playing hopscotch at the truck-stop when the sparrow begins his epic journey. As we read we’re joined to all three children—the delight of a first taste, the joys of playing games, the fascination of watching a sparrow. We all understand these things and so we feel connected too.
More reasons to love this book:
Grandparents caring for a young child is part of everyday life for many children – it’s nice that that part of life is depicted as intrinsic and utterly normal.
Edie’s sheer delight in tasting vanilla ice cream is completely relatable—who hasn’t eaten something that changed their life for ever?
Bob Graham’s illustrations always tug at that part of the heart that connects to family and home. I think it’s the ordinariness that the pictures convey that makes them so appealing. There’s a sense of everyday life being beautiful.
Edie’s first taste of ice cream is serendipitous—if the sparrow hadn’t landed on that table at that moment, who knows how long Edie would have waited for that delight? These little moments happen to everyone—it’s noticing those moments that makes a good story. Perhaps your young readers will notice when things line up for them sometime too.
A couple of reading hints:
It can be tricky keeping your reading rhythm boing when you come to a wordless page and there are three of them in Vanilla Ice Cream. I find a few soft umms and ahhs, a giggle or a surprised tone as you point to one or two things on each page is usually enough to help a child keep the story top-of-mind and still have time to explore the page. The monkey riding atop an enormous load on a bicycle, for example, can be pointed to with a giggle, or a gasp. Then, once the story is well known, there’s time to explore each of the many details.
Edie has a surprising connection with Annisha and Suhani—they’ll never know it of course, but we know it. What we don’t know is what surprising shared experiences we might have with someone a world away. It might be fun and instructive to think about what those connections could be: in light-hearted ways like a travelling sparrow, and in more serious ways such as imagining who might have made my new t-shirt.
An ice cream cone is an obvious treat to eat after reading Vanilla Ice Cream, but Indian food could be fun too. I think you’ll really love this short and delightfully simple story.