The curtain rises on this nearly wordless adventure right in the opening endpaper, when one adult (seen, as in toddler perspective, from the waist down) lowers a squirming baby to the floor, another holds a teetering toddler by the hand, and the two kids peer raptly at a scattering of toys while a spotted pooch hovers in the background. Thaose simple ingredients and the one word "Mine" then prove enough to create a toddler-iffic tale of physical comedy.
Knowing, as do all little kids, that possession is nine-tenths of the law, the older child is quick to stake out the territory, grabbing up the toys one at a time and firmly identifying each of them as "Mine" to the cheerfully unimpressed baby. Possession proves transitory, however, as one emphatic gesture sends the collection flying in all directions. The toddler's dreams of cornering the toy market are further shattered when the playful pup grabs a dropped ball on the bounce and the baby first snags a soft bunny-like item and then gleefully lobs it into the air over the toddler's head. When the bunny lands with a splash in the dog's dish, the delighted kids seize on a jolly new game of "drop-everything-in-the-water," resulting in a drippy romp for kids and pooch. The dog then tries his paw at toy-guarding (with a "Woof " rather than a "Mine" and a play-bow that indicates this is all in fun). Finally, the baby puts the seal on the youngsters' new bonding and takes a leap into the concept of possession by unsteadily wobbling on his/her own two feet towards the toddler and smacking the older child to the ground in a joyous embrace, hollering "Mine!"
That's all appropriately toddler-level adventure, with plenty of pleasing slapstick (toddlers celebrate gravity like nobody else) and mess. Yet the story isn't just an excuse for enjoyable chaos, it's also smoothly and neatly crafted, with some real conceptual exploration of the perils and shades of possession: no, you can't have it all, it's more fun when you don't, and people are more enjoyable than things anyway. Given that there's virtually no text (the only word other than "Mine" is "Woof "), it's up to the art to do the heavy lifting here, and Barton's art not only rises to the occasion but soars beyond it. The book describes the medium as "pencil sketches created digitally," but that's not a description that fully evokes the nuclear intensity of the illustrations' appeal. Smudgy pastel-like textures, soft, organically uneven patterning, and friendly sketchy lines combine in figures that suggest American cousins to Shirley Hughes' kids. Barton has more than simple cuteness in her armory, however; she's a dab hand at apt details, such as the way the baby laughs with feet and hands wiggling in the air and the bulging of the toddler's [End Page 507] diaper-covering pants, and her compositions, occasionally highlighted by dotted lines showing the path of various kid-flung and dog-carried objects, balance the ebullient chaos with space and compositional order.
While the adorable munchkins have definite adult appeal, their interactions will ring true to young audiences as well. Lapsitters will delight in following along with the proceedings without much grownup assistance, engaging in shared explanation of the kids' actions, and flinging whatever they can get their hands on in literary celebration. (Publication information appears on p. 514.)