In this last installment of Jane Yolen’s trio of books about ordinary objects with extraordinary uses, the humble stick is lauded as “a sword to tame monsters of dread” and “an oar for a rowboat in puddle or pond,” among other imaginative functions. As with most things, though, it fulfills its truest purpose when combined with others: what can be made with a stick, a box, and a string? “Music that goes with … everything!”
With an active imagination, the sky (er…the stick) is the limit! When an expressive young child with straight brown hair and pale skin—and their equally expressive dog—finds a stick in the yard, the child recognizes it as a “remarkable toy” that can be used for a variety of purposes, from battling nighttime closet monsters to pretending to be a seal balancing it on their nose to using it as a magic wand. The story is a love letter to both creativity and the childhood exuberance of imaginative play. Yolen’s verse is pithy and direct: “A stick is a sword / to tame monsters of dread. / Or bend it to use as a / large bow instead. // It can anchor a ship. // It can hold down a pulley. // A stick draws the line / between you and a bully.” The real stars of the show, however, are the illustrations, which capture the actions and joys of the child, although at times their excitement is overshadowed by the expressions of the black-and-white dog, who skirts the line between realism and caricature. Readers, both solo and in large groups, will love the rhymes, the big, bold illustrative choices, and the message that imagination is the best playmate of them all. (This book was reviewed digitally.)
Stick with this story—it’s a winner.
Jane Yolen won hearts with Owl Moon, published in 1987. Since then she has written hundreds of books, including the bestselling rhyming picture book series How do Dinosaurs . . .?, demonstrating the playful side of poetry reminiscent of Theodor Geisel. Her new What to Do With . . . ? series, describing both imaginative and practical ways kids can use everyday things like boxes and string, is written in the same Seuss-like anapestic tetrameter, with a different illustrator giving each book its unique personality. Like the other books in the series, What to Do with a Stick describes the imaginative ways a child might use that prop, providing examples that encourage activity and getting outside—a pertinent message, given that the average American child spends just seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play.Yolen’s rhyming meter is flawless and begs for the story to be read aloud, which is the best way to share a book with a child. Like a favorite song, you may even find yourself reciting certain lines to one another.But the highlights of this book are Paolo Domeniconi’s realistically magical artwork and the extent of the illustrations he created to accompany the text. The looks on the face of the red-haired boy, as he uses the sticks for distinctly different purposes, are recognizable to anyone with children in their lives. Fighting a dragon, anchoring a boat, fishing—each image imparts the magic of youth that Yolen’s words are meant to portray. What to Do with a Stick is a book your children will enjoy looking through even when they can’t read. This will only make it more enjoyable when they start putting the rhyming words together themselves.
–Melissa Rooney, New York Journal of Books, 03/13/2023