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Pencil Play Pals Books

Written and illustrated by Norman Childes
Whehey Publishing

Pencil Play Pals is a new brand of children's products created by author and illustrator Norman Childes. Currently, there are two storybooks, a book of games, and a book of animal press-outs that attach to pencils, all featuring the Pencil Play Pals gang.

The Pristine Pig is the story of a pig who does not like to be dirty. All of his pig siblings love frolicking in the mud and muck, but not Percy. At first it bothers him to stand out from the crowd, so he tries to fit in somehow. But a little mouse helps him to see that it's all right to just be himself. It's not easy with his siblings always playing tricks on him, pushing him into the mud when he least expects it or tossing a can full of garbage on his head. Percy finally finds a way to stay clean by learning how to swim in the pond. When one of his brothers accidentally gets thrown in the water, Percy is able to help him out. This gives his siblings a new appreciation for Percy, and they come up with some creative ways to help him stay clean.

The next story in the series is called The Crocodile Who Thought She Was a Duck. Two crocodiles decide that they are ready to have children. They go to the birds and bees to find out how to do that. Their lesson gets interrupted, but they learn enough so that a few weeks later Joan hurries to tell Harry the good news that they will be having babies. Before she can break the news to him, a hunter fires shots at them and Harry disappears into the river. Joan hides long enough to escape, and as the weeks go by she resigns herself to raising her babies alone. She is surprised by the fact that she is laying eggs, because apparently no one told her that part. She figures that since she has webbed feet, has a nest on the ground, has laid eggs, and loves water just like a duck, then she must be the mother of ducklings. This silly assumption leads to all kinds of mishaps as she attempts to learn how to fly. Of course, she finally learns the truth when the baby crocodiles begin to hatch. Harry, having missed out on all of this, comes out of the river just in time to meet his new children.

Both of these stories feature cute illustrations drawn by the author himself. The characters are funny and endearing. My 6-year-old daughter laughed through the reading of both books. As a parent, I appreciated The Pristine Pig much more than The Crocodile Who Thought She Was a Duck. Frankly, I was taken aback by the discussion Joan and Harry have about how to make babies. What most disturbed me was the fact that Harry turns red hot, making the water around him steam, as he thinks about starting a family with Joan. I'm not sure this kind of thing is appropriate in a children's book. The rest of the story is fine, and Joan's flying lessons truly are hilarious. I just wish the book had started with Joan laying the eggs, leaving out the embarrassing conversations in the beginning. The Pristine Pig, on the other hand, is a great story that teaches children how to accept themselves and not give in to the pressure to be like everyone else.

This series would not be complete without Press-Out Pencil Play Pals: Series 1. This book gives meaning to the theme that has been created the author, Mr. Childes. These press-outs include many of the characters that you meet in the storybooks. The animals are very easy to push out and seem durable, since they are printed on a slick card stock paper. You learn a little about each character in this spiral bound book, so you will want to keep the book even after you have pressed out the animals. The whole idea behind the Pencil Play Pals brand is that children will be inspired to pick up a pencil and write a story or draw a picture. The first thing my daughter did once we got the animals punched out was to pull out all of her colored pencils so that she could attach the animals to them. Then she used her colors to draw something.

The final book of the series is Pencil Play Pals Pencil Games, which features games that can be played with pencils and just a few extra materials that you probably have around the house. Game pieces are included for the games that need them. There are 20 creative games that will provide hours of fun for your children. In fact, I believe this book will motivate children to come up with their own games once they see how easy it is to put together household and recycled items to make a fun game.

The Pencil Play Pals series is a wonderful set of books that will hopefully give your children the encouragement to pick up their pencils and start writing and creating. The website offers a free kids' club that will give your children even more enthusiasm for learning along with their Pals. Even with the few notes I made about The Crocodile Who Thought She Was a Duck, I would still recommend this series to parents who are trying to help their children find a love for reading, writing, and art.

Product review by Jenny Thompson, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, February 2010

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