The Mole Sisters and the Busy Bees

by Roslyn Schwartz

Published by Annick Press

32 pages, 2000

The Mole Sisters and the Wavy Wheat

by Roslyn Schwartz

Published by Annick Press

32 pages, 2000





Rodent Siblings

Reviewed by Monica Stark


One of the phenomenal successes in the children's market in the 1990s were the Teletubbies. Vaguely human-shaped and brightly colored, at the very heart of the Teletubbies you find that not a whole lot is going on. The sun is always shining, problems -- if they're significant enough to think of at all -- are surmountable and you can always get by with a little help from your friends.

While not suggesting that Roslyn Schwartz' very successful mole sisters are in any way derivative of the (sometimes annoyingly cloying) Teletubbies, they do have a few things in common. In the first place, there's really not a whole lot going on the with the mole sisters, either. That is, they're not plagued by the low self-esteem that accompanies abandonment in infancy; they're not having to deal with parental divorce, familial alcoholism or any other order or disorder that can often affect the heroes of books that are intended for children. As the two happy siblings go about their insignificant business, they are not -- or, at least, they haven't thus far -- had to deal with the horrors of leghold traps, been hunted by cats or even called upon to solve complicated mysteries. Rather, the challenges they face are -- forgive me -- Teletubbies-type challenges. A lot of pleasant repetition seemingly intended to do little beyond lull an active youngster with pleasant pictures and nice round sounds.

For example, The Mole Sisters and the Wavy Wheat, opens on the mole siblings determining which way to go in a burrow. There are two possibilities.

"We always go left..."

So they went right instead.

Right takes them up and they find themselves lost in a wheat field. Not frighteningly lost, however. It's just that they're moles and, thus, they're very small and the wheat is all around them. A veritable old-growth forest of wheat. Which way? Which way? And so on until they decide to go up, each sister climbing a stock and then spending some time cavorting on the top of the wheat in the way that a child might imagine cavorting on clouds. At the edge of the wheat field -- because, of course, all good things must end -- the two end up sort of bungying down to safety.

The mole sisters waved goodbye to the wavy wheat.

And so home to do some housekeeping with a couple of stalk tops they've managed to hang onto and -- finally -- to bed.

The Mole Sisters and the Busy Bees is much the same speed. On a day when the mole sisters are determined to kick back and relax, ("Sometimes it's important to do nothing.") our appealing duo are stretched out under a tree, "when along came a bee." The industrious bee intrigues our pair and they set off after him, to see what he's up to. They come, eventually, to meadow filled with flowers. ("How lovely," said the mole sisters.) And they make like bees: sticking their pointy noses deep into the flowers and inhaling, inadvertently covering their little snoots with pollen. "They think we're flowers too!" They say, indicating the approaching bees. And, of course, you think: disaster. Bees mistaking moles for flowers. But, no: the bees merely grin happily and the pollen makes the moles sneeze and the sneezed off polled covers the grinning bees, thereby cutting their work down considerably. And all of them -- moles and bees -- live pretty much happily ever after.

Of course, simple stories alone do not successful books for preschoolers make. The mole sisters benefit greatly from the careful and well-used illustrations of their creator. Schwartz' colored pencil drawings are simple, bright and perfectly charming. Had Annick Press opted to produce these books in the full-sized children's picture book format and covered the pages -- as publishers often feel inclined to -- with Schwartz' illustrations, a lot of the charm would have drained out. Used as they are, however, with each illustration claiming only about half of each page's space was a very good design move. What results is a careful little sketch on each page, framed by a broad swathe of the page's own white space. The pencil drawings look very tight and finished at this small size and the book is not overworked. The resulting package is perfect. The delightful mole sisters have a great deal to offer: tiny books for tiny readers. What could be more natural than that? | August 2000


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.