1050 Return of the crocodiles

Crocs in a Box: Three Little Books
by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Rae Maté

Vancouver: Tradewind Books, 2020
$24.95 / 9781926890067

Consisting of Crocodiles Say (2006), Crocodiles Play (2008), and Crocs at Work (2015)

Reviewed by Irene N. Watts


Well-loved books sometimes languish on the backlist, or go out of print. Happily Tradewind Books have not gone this route with Crocs in a Box. They have reissued the crocodile tales they originally published in 2005, 2008, and 2015 into one appealing, vibrantly-coloured package perfectly sized for the intended age group to hold.

Masters of their craft, Heidbreder and Maté are at their mischievous best in these tales. The rhyming text sparkles. Heidbreder, who has enchanted children for many years with his poems and stories, and illustrator Maté brilliantly conspire to bring the reader a croc world of joyful mayhem — Irene N. Watts


Crocodiles Say
by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Rae Maté

Vancouver: Tradewind Books, 2006

Is a whirlwind tour of a typical day. The first poem sets the pattern. What crocs say is immediately followed by a hilarious illustration of what they actually do, which contradicts their words.

Crocodiles say…
Crocodiles rise before the sun
Sleeping in,
For them’s no fun

Rae Mate

But their alarm clock points to 10 a.m and they are still fast asleep, which is no surprise after greeting the moon at 5 a.m. 

Crocs know all about good manners, remembering to chew and swallow with closed mouths when eating:

Crocodiles say…
Always be Polite!

Maté’s double spread allows us to observe what really happens — croc food, including cereal boxes, gulped down by wide open jaws, bits sprayed across the table, milk is swallowed straight from the jug, and muffins disappear with half peeled bananas into eager mouths.

Crocodiles choose their morning outfits with care:

Crocodiles say…
We always look our best!

Their best is a zany conglomeration of outfits, socks on paws, and a hat adorning a head. Lacy panties decorate a snout and buttons are fastened crookedly, displaying underwear.

Robert Heidbreder

Crocodiles love
Crocodile schools
Crocodiles say …We follow all the rules!

They interpret the rules in their own special way, reducing the classroom to croc chaos. A croc balances a globe on his head, perches a pencil on his nose, and devours an apple. Furniture is upside down; spectacles and a ruler join gum on the classroom floor. A shoe is discarded whilst a croc sits on a table reading Croco-o Tales and munching a lollipop. Meanwhile, a croc does a handstand whilst holding a balloon between his teeth.

Crocs visit the gym to keep in shape:

They exercise each
Scaly limb

But when they arrive, exercise is forgotten as they dream of ice-cream cones, rest their feet on weights, and float on the pool. 

Crocodiles say…
That’s why we are so trim! 

With every new resolution and the reality that follows, the surprise remains fresh. Maté’s illustrations throughout the three Croc books will delight small and older readers with their unexpected and playful details.


Crocodiles Play!
by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Rae Maté

Vancouver: Tradewind Books, 2008

When it’s time to play sports, crocs in spick and span uniforms give games a new dimension. Baseball bats make Basketball seem easy. Golf clubs are used with glee for Baseball. Tennis racquets raise the stakes in a game of Tag, and soccer balls are fun for playing Hide and Seek.

The inventiveness of Heidbreder and Maté never falters in finding new ways for crocs to play. Imagine a game of football turning into a game of Ring-Around-the Rosie!

Crocs tape their tails
Just like their sticks
And lace their skates
For on-ice tricks
Ready to play the most favourite game of all-
Yes, it’s HOCKEY!


Crocs at Work
by Robert Heidbreder, illustrated by Rae Maté

Vancouver: Tradewind Books, 2015

No job is too taxing for these ambitious crocs. They meet each challenge, as do their creators, with perfect confidence. How reassuring for small crocs to be walked safely to school by croc bus drivers, who thereby avoid the perils of the road!

Crocs are reliable postal carriers who brave the elements — but to make their deliveries more fun, they hide the mail.

Young crocs have no need for fear; when Croc doctors and nurses are in charge, the perfect remedy is at hand: 

We’ll fix your owies the declare
By putting Band-Aids everywhere

I can imagine a child showing the illustration on their next visit to the family Doctor!

At Café Croc, delicious meals are produced by a gourmet chef, but there is one drawback: the chef insists that he must sample the finished product to make sure the taste is of the finest quality.

Maté ’s image of the croc diner weeping “crocodile” tears as he watches his long awaited meal disappear, gulped down by the chef who cooked it, is heartrending. Even the lone tulip on the diner’s table droops in sympathy.

Heidbreder illuminates his text when writing about croc Housepainters:

A chic, unique croc work of art
Subtle, tranquil, calm and quaint
So every house they splatter paint

Florist crocs arrange beautiful bouquets, but unfortunately they immediately gobble them up.

Robert Heidbreder. Photo by Ted Hayes

It is as teachers that crocs truly excel. Their most important rule is to:

Play all the time!

These three delightful books cannot help but nurture imagination and foster creativity and the joy to be found in playfulness.

Congratulations to all at Tradewind Books for this stunning collaboration.

Highly recommended for kids, parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians!


Irene Watts

Playwright/writer Irene N. Watts was born in Berlin, educated in England and Wales, and has made her home in Canada since 1968. Her trilogy: Good-bye Marianne, Remember Me, and Finding Sophie (Tundra Books, 1998-2002), was inspired by her own journey out of Nazi Germany by Kindertransport. She writes in different genres: picture and chapter books, plays, and historical novels. Her most recent work is Seeking Refuge, a graphic novel illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker (Tradewind Books, 2016). Her favourite awards include the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, the Western Canadian Jewish Book Award, and BC’s Chocolate Lily Award. She is a life member of Playwrights Guild of Canada. Editor’s note: Irene Watts has reviewed books by Katherena Vermette and Julie Flett and Pam Withers for The Ormsby Review.


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Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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