celebrating children's books loved by adult readers

Copyright 2005 Wendy E. Betts.
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Vol. 13, No. 4; October 2005


I Like Books written and illustrated by Anthony Browne. Knopf, 1989; Candlewick, 2004 (0-7636-2162-5) $8.99

A young chimp winsomely embodies his favorite types of books: carrying a basket of books dressed as Little Red (fairy tales), sitting on letters made of books (alphabet books), reading aloud on a wall to a nervous Humpty Dumpty (nursery rhymes) and most memorably, only partially colored in (coloring books.) The pages are framed with appropriate whimsical motifs. This reprint in small, "super-sturdy" picture book format is a good choice for beginning readers, but adult fans will probably want the original edition, as the layout has changed. (2 & up)

Here's a Penny written and illustrated by Carolyn Haywood. Harcourt, 1944; Odyssey, 2005 (0-15-205227-5) $16.00; (0-15-205225-9) $5.95 trade; Penny and Peter written and illustrated by Carolyn Haywood. Harcourt, 1946; Odyssey, 2005 (0-15-205232-1) $16.00; (0-15-205226-7) $5.95 trade

Less well known than Haywood's "Betsy" series, these are another warm, simple look at some of the small dreams, adventures and foibles of young childhood. "Penny" is really a little boy named William--but when Mother and Daddy went to the hospital to look for a baby to adopt, they found him with hair the color of "a brand-new copper penny."

In the first book, Penny adopts a kitten--and another kitten adopts him; he and his friend Patsy fool their own parents with identical Halloween costumes; and he finds the older brother of his dreams. The second book finds Penny and his new brother Peter sharing fishing, painting, camping... and accidents. Haywood's carefully drawn black & white illustrations add to the cozy, old-fashioned charm of these stories. (6-10)

Hero's Song by Edith Pattou. 1991; Magic Carpet 2005 (0-15-205542-8) $7.95 pb

Collun, a gentle gardener who thinks of himself as a coward, is forced to set out on a hero's journey when his sister Nessa disappears. Along the way he acquires several companions--his childhood friend Talisen, an aspiring bard; a helpful but amoral Ellyl (one of the Fair Folk); and an archer named Brie on a secret quest of her own--and learns some troubling truths about his past.

With roots in Celtic mythology, this sober, engrossing adventure is an enjoyable read in the quest fantasy genre, though frequent echoes of other books, particularly Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, are a bit distracting. (10 & up)

Billy's Picture written and illustrated by Margaret and H.A. Rey. 1948; Houghton Mifflin, 2004 (0-618-49420-0) $5.95 pb

Lesser known than Curious George and long out of print, this story is very welcome back. It starts with Billy the Bunny deciding to draw a picture, but as he starts to draw an animal, various friends drop by and decide the picture isn't quite right: Oliver the Owl decides to put in wings, Ronny the Rooster thinks it should have a comb, and of course Paul the Porcupine is sure it needs quills. Soon the picture is like no animal ever seen and Billy is pretty upset: "What I wanted to draw isn't a PUPPYGOOSE or a PORCUPHANT or whatever you call this silly picture. All I wanted to draw was a picture of myself!" And when he says that, all his friends realize that is what they wanted to do too. And so they do. With sharply defined, cheerful pictures in just four colors, and a story that will resonant with any occasionally frustrated young artist, this unsophisticated book has a basic, almost instinctual appeal, though the design makes the text feel a little rushed. (2-5)

New Books

The Bridesmaid by Hailey Abbott. Delacorte, 2005 (0-385-73220-1) $7.95 pb

Athlete Abby hates all things mushy--with reason. Her family's wedding planning business has shown her that weddings make people insane, and that the only thing worse than a Bridezilla is a MOB (mother of the bride.) When Abby's own sister becomes engaged--to a man who lives thousands of miles away--Abby's hatred for weddings gets personal. Her sensible sister is suddenly freaking out about the color of ribbons on the menus, her normally affectionate parents are at each other's throats over the wedding style, and Abby has a terrible suspicion that the jerk who's taking her sister away may also be cheating on her.

As Abby tries to cope with the horror that is her sister's wedding, her own personal life is also getting increasingly complicated, thanks to her good friend Christopher and Noah, the unrequited crush of her life. Or is it unrequited?

The cover of this book screams "chick-lit" and what you see is pretty much what you get: chick-lit for teens. (Chick-lit lite? Chick-lit liter?) Not that there's anything wrong with that: it's a fast, fun read, with an enjoyable premise and likeable characters. And you could safely share it with your mom--or vice-versa. (12 & up)

Pants by Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. David Fickling, 2003 (0-385-75014-5)

A paen to pants--underpants, that is--which celebrates everything from loose pants to tight pants to lighting up at night pants! Sharratt has a field day illustrating this gleefully rhyming book: "cheeky little monkey pants" are monkey-decorated underwear worn by a boy sticking out his tongue; across the page, a monkey wears underwear decorated with the boy's face. "Tight pants" are clearly making a superhero very unhappy and "scary pants" are huge underwear with a deliciously terrifying wicked smile. A zestful introduction to wearing (or sometimes, not wearing) underwear. (2 & up)

Tickle the Duck written and illustrated by Ethan Long. LB Kids, 2005 (0-316-00102-3) $10.99

Any parent whose child has a love-hate relationship with being tickled will smile at this novelty book, which features a belligerent duck admonishing "Don't you dare!" on the cover. The duck sternly tells us exactly where not to tickle her--a soft downy underarm, or a rubbery foot; "touch and feel" has never been more fun. Finally the duck admits that a little tickle is okay, and ends the book snorting, "do it again." A nice choice for sibling reading. (2-6)

Fooled You by Elaine Pascoe. illustrated by Laurie Keller. Henry Holt, 2005 (0-8050-7528-3) $16.95

This entertaining book has a serious purpose: to educate children about the nature of hoaxes. Eleven short chapters describe some classic fakes, from a false newspaper report penned by Edgar Allen Poe in 1844 to the giant mutant cat Internet hoax of 2001. Accompanying cartoons are cute, but not as useful or interesting as reproductions of actual photographs would be: using a few of the actual photos of the famous Cottingly "fairies" for example, would have added a lot. A selection of related books and websites encourages continued research. (8-12)

Now (or Again) in Paperback

Sweet Miss Honeywell's Revenge by Kathryn Reiss. Harcourt, 2004 (0-15-216574-6) $17; 2005 (0-15-205471-5) $6.95 pb

Zibby doesn't even like dolls; her birthday dream is of new rollerblades. So it's pretty strange when she finds herself spending her rollerblade money on a dollhouse she suddenly just has to have. Even stranger is the price--exactly what she has, down to the last cent--and the form the seller has her sign, stating she takes "full responsibility for the house and all its contents."

The contents turn out to include a large number of old-fashioned dolls-- and they're the strangest thing of all. Because anything that happens to the dolls also seems to happen to Zibby's friends and family... and even the nicest play scenarios always seem to go terribly wrong.

As Zibby and her new neighbors, Jude and Penny, try to solve the mystery of the dollhouse, they're beset with spooky encounters, unexpected pains and terrible nightmares. And then there's Zibby soon-to-be stepsister, whose resentment of Zibby's mom seems to be creating a whole new nightmare.

I was puzzled by the plotting of this book: after a long but well-paced first half, the story suddenly veers into new territory. with characters and elements that had been inadequately foreshadowed taking center stage. It turns out that this was originally a series of three books, and the welding of the numerous subplots, characters and themes into one leaves some awkward seams. (I should have guessed just from the cast of girls: anglo, black and asian, the ubiquitous triumvirate of girl's series books from the 1990's.) Nonetheless, this is an enjoyably chilling read that will appeal to fans of the genre. (9 & up)

River Rats by Caroline Stevermer. 1992; Magic Carpet, 2005 (0-15-205554-1) $6.95 pb

Swallows and Amazons meets Peter Pan meets "The Road Warrior" in this intriguing, post-Apocalyptic adventure. In a futuristic world of pollution, disease, and abandoned cities peopled by renegade "wild boys," the orphan kids aboard the paddle boat "River Rat survive through hard work, quick thinking and sticking together. (12 & up)

Everything Old is New Again: new editions of books widely available

Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 1871; Candlewick, 2005 (0-7636-2893-1) $24.99

Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal for her reillustration of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Oxenbury now brings her expressive pen & ink drawings to its companion. Showing an energetic, genuinely childlike young Alice, the drawings give a freshness, innocence and simplicity to the familiar characters, as well as plenty of humor and action--I particularly enjoyed the Lion vigorously punching out the Unicorn. The illustrations are numerous, ranging from black & white decorations to full-color paintings. A delightful new edition. * (5 & up)

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