Is Bink & Gollie: Two For One The Perfect Book for a Kid Starting First Grade?

by Tom B.

My Brave Year of Firsts

This is pretty much what it felt like to drop our daughter off to first grade….

Before we get to Bink & Gollie, if you’ve been wondering if Building a Library was on hiatus, I totally understand. Things here at Library Headquarters have been beyond hectic now that my daughter has just begun FIRST GRADE, a big life milestone that (if I’m being honest) I’m still a little weepy about.

The race up to the beginning of her school year was overwhelming with school supply shopping, orientation meetings, and desperate attempts to squeeze in a few final day trips to museums and zoos before first grade finally began.

The weekend before school started, I took my daughter to a local bookstore and told her that, in celebration of her new school year, she could pick out ANY book she wanted. An hour and a half later, I almost regretted that decision. We looked at EVERYTHING. New books, old books, picture books, easy readers, chapter books, audiobooks. Yes, I did have to reiterate SEVERAL TIMES that the toys and stuffed animals in the children’s section did not, in fact, count as reading material and, thus, was not eligible to qualify as “any book you wanted”, but, on the whole, it was fun to watch my daughter browsing her head off, completely lost in the stacks trying to find the perfect book.

My Brave Year of Firsts

This is actually a “perfect” book for any kid about to start first grade…

After trying to steer her towards some good-looking chapter books – she’s interested in Judy Moody, but won’t take the plunge yet – I spent twenty minutes advocating for My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives, a new picture book by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Even though I had been previously pushing for my daughter to pick a chapter book, I’ve written about my affection for Curtis and Cornell’s picture books in the past (I find them sentimental in all the right ways) and the book just seemed PERFECT for a kid about to start first grade.

It’s all about a young girl taking the leap and trying a myriad of new things for the very first time. She starts first grade (perfect!), she tries to ride her bike without training wheels (we’re doing that right now!), she makes new friends (just like my kid!), she helps her dad (I’m a dad!), and her name is Frankie (my daughter is named Charley!). My Brave Year of Firsts is a fun, wonderfully illustrated rumination on the benefits of being brave and trying new things and, thematically, it couldn’t have been more perfect for my kid.

So, of course, she didn’t pick it.

(Sorry Jamie and Laura. The book IS pretty great, though, and my daughter has a birthday coming up, so guess what she’s getting?)

Give a kid the power to pick out their own book and they will take full advantage of that privilege. And, after I vetoed a few more toys and at least one Barbie book, I heard my daughter gasp in the stacks and come running towards me.

“THIS is my book.”

Bink & Gollie: Two For One

My kid could’ve picked ANY book in the store, but this is the one she wanted.

The book was Bink & Gollie: Two For One, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee with illustrations by Tony Fucile. It’s an illustrated early reader/chapter book hybrid, a sequel to the original Bink & Gollie, the New York Times bestseller and Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner, which happens to be one of my daughter’s favorite books.

I love it when my daughter exhibits good taste.

I’ve been meaning to write about the original Bink & Gollie for months now (and I still probably will one day), but it’s one of those books that is SO good that it’s actually intimidating to write a review of it. How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post? It’s just an amazing title and Bink & Gollie: Two For One definitely lives up to its reputation.

Bink and Gollie are two best friends – Bink is a short young firecracker of a girl and Gollie is her older, taller, more rational (though just as imaginative) best pal. In each book, they have three separate-but-linked mini-adventures, short stories in the style of George & Martha or Cowgirl Kate & Cocoa. And each story sheds more light on the nature of their atypical friendship. In Bink & Gollie: Two For One, the girls head to the state fair where Bink tries her hand at carnival games, Gollie enters a talent show, and the two friends encounter a fortune teller with news about their future.

Bink & Gollie: Two For One

That’s one big doughnut…

There’s a lot I can say about Bink & Gollie: Two For One – all of it blisteringly positive – but, for now, I’ll stick to two main things. First, Tony Fucile‘s artwork is breathtaking. His background is in animation and he’s worked on some of the best animated films of the past twenty-five years, including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Iron Giant, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. And, when reading Bink & Gollie: Two For One, you can’t help but think that this book looks like a collection of storyboards for an AMAZING animated movie.

Actually, strike that. Bink & Gollie is better than a movie. But Fucile really does bring the visual perspective and verve of wide-screen motion picture storytelling to the printed page and it’s a wonderful treat to look at. His knack for characterization particularly shines when it comes to the two main characters – two girls who just POP off the page and feel really, really REAL.

The second thing I want to mention while discussing Bink & Gollie: Two For One is that it is FUNNY. Extremely, unquestionably capital-F funny. There is a sequence in the first story, “Whack a Duck,” where the good-natured (but badly-aimed) Bink keeps clobbering the man running a carnival booth right between the eyes with a baseball that made me laugh harder than almost any other thing I’ve read this year. And my daughter SCREAMED with delight every time the poor man took the baseball right in the face. Fucile‘s perfect, expressive illustrations mixed with DiCamillo and McGhee‘s brilliantly deadpan text is just a wonder to behold. (After Bink throws her final ball with her eyes closed – right into the already-injured carny’s face – and asks if she’s won, Gollie just stares and replies, “Oh, Bink… There are no winners here.”)

Bink & Gollie: Two For One

This sequence is hysterical…

Bink & Gollie: Two For One might not be as thematically ideal as My Brave Year of Firsts when it comes to celebrating my daughter’s passage into first grade, but here’s how I’m justifying her bookstore selection – If Bink & Gollie is at all representative of the kinds of sophisticated, warm-hearted, expertly-crafted books that my daughter will hopefully be reading as she advances into elementary school, then I can’t think of a more perfect literary duo to hold her hand and walk with her into first grade.

Nice pick, Charley.

THE DETAILS ON BINK & GOLLIE: TWO FOR ONE:

AGE RANGE: The stated reading level is 6 and up, but the Bink & Gollie books are perfectly acceptable to read to younger kids (2 and up), particularly because the layout of the books are extremely friendly for younger and developing readers. (Good-natured subject matter, expressive characters, larger font size, good text-per-page ratio, etc).

PAGE COUNT: 96 pages (but there isn’t much text per page, so it’s a quick read)

RELATED WEB SITES: There’s an official Bink & Gollie website that, in my opinion, is one of the best designed kids’ book sites I’ve seen in a while. You can find information on the books, the creators, games, resources for teachers and parents – EVERY kids’ book should aspire to having a website like this.

BUY IT, BORROW IT, OR FORGET IT?: Both Bink & Gollie books are just virtuoso pieces of children’s literature. If you can, definitely buy them. (The first Bink & Gollie is in paperback, if that makes the decision any easier.)

IF YOU LIKED BINK & GOLLIE: TWO FOR ONE, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

  • George & Martha by James Marshall – Any time I see a picture book about two friends, particularly a book about two friends that’s structured like a short story collection, I immediately end up comparing it to either Arnold Lobel’s Frog & Toad or James Marshall’s George & Martha. And, while Frog & Toad are wonderful, George & Martha are my true favorites. Marshall has created a series of picture books about two hippopotamuses who, in a series of short illustrated stories, hilariously explore what it means to be a friend. When I call Bink & GollieGeorge & Martha-esque”, that’s a huge compliment.
  • Cowboy & Octopus by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith – I love this book and so does my daughter. It’s a weird, jokier cousin of George & Martha, but Scieszka and Smith bring such a skewed, uproarious vision to the table that I find it impossible not to fall head over heels for this book. Smith introduces us to a very odd-pairing – a cowboy and an octopus (cut out collage-style from other books) – who meet and quickly become friends. And, in Scieszka’s short vignettes, which involve a lot of bean-eating and hand-shaking, the two oddballs develop a hysterical and surprisingly warm relationship. Almost as funny as Bink & Gollie and SO much fun to read aloud.

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