Sunday, October 15, 2006

New Book Roundup

Aggie and Ben: Three Stories by Lori Ries; illus. Frank W. Dormer

Fans of Cynthia Rylant’s beloved Henry and Mudge easy-reader books will jump for joy over these adventures of Aggie the pup and her owner, a sweet boy named Ben. Anyone who has owned a dog (or has wished for one) will resonate with these stories as they perfectly capture new-pet ownership: carefully choosing the best dog at the store (“A dog would sleep on my bed and be my best friend,” says the thoughtful Ben); gleefully rolling around the living room floor with a furry new friend (“I am just like Aggie,”); being grossed out by the dog’s fondness for the toilet (“I am done being a dog”), and the satisfaction of feeling a tail wagging next to you as you curl up for the night. Ries’ text is well-tailored in its simplicity; it keeps the plot interesting and funny with a minimum of detail. Dormer’s chunky stylized watercolor paintings perfectly evoke the graceful chubbiness of both Aggie and Ben; they manage to be cute without being cutesy. A lovely addition to any new reader’s bookshelf.

Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman

A young boy boards the school bus for a run-of-the-mill field trip to the city art museum that turns out to be anything but ordinary in this cryptic wordless picture book. Stopping to tie his shoe, the boy loses his way in the museum, and happens upon a secret door. Inside is a tiny room with a display case showing old etchings of mazes. Gazing upon them, the boy suddenly finds himself inside the mazes himself – leading to a quiet yet exciting adventure that will capture the imagination of anyone who likes puzzles, art, and a bit of mystery. Like in her Caldecott Honor-winning The Red Book, Lehman again relies on thick lines and bright jewel tones to describe the boy’s journey through sepia-toned mazes. An abundant use of white space is given to each page’s design to guide the reader’s eye through the story without distractions. Readers who have enjoyed the works of David Wiesner, Anthony Browne, and Chris Van Allsburg will find something exciting and intriguing here. This is a great book for a child who is always looking for something magical in the everyday – a place to let your mind travel a bit without straying too far from your own front yard.

One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice; illus. Andrea U’Ren

A familiar folktale is given a delightful new makeover: The O’Grady’s are so poor that they subsist on just one potato per day (“they called it breakfast, lunch, and supper, and considered themselves lucky to have it”) and have so few material possessions that they have to share everything. One day a mysterious pot is unearthed in the garden, which proves to have the magical ability to double whatever is placed inside – put in one potato, pull out two – and all their troubles are over. What really shines here is DeFelice’s text, which is brightened with clever Irish overtones (“Saints have mercy!” is the couple’s favorite exclamation). When the couple discover the pot, they don’t become greedy – they simply replicate as much food, provisions, and money as they think they will need to live comfortably, and then bury the pot “for someone else to find.” Most marvelous are U’Ren’s gently comic illustrations. The O’Grady’s are possibly the skinniest, gangliest picture-book characters I’ve ever seen, with overalls and stockings that seem to be held up by sheer will alone. A palette of earth-tones gives the illustrations a warmth that matches the humorous text. A perfect story for children living in an increasingly materialistic age.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Revised and Updated by Diana Wynne Jones
Can I say how tickled I am that this book has undergone a second edition? Jones takes the premise that all fantasy novels are really travel brochures and for the "PanCeltic Touring Agency," which takes people from our world for trips around "Fantasyland." This book is the essential a-to-z guide for such tourists -- in other words, a perfect platform for Jones to have tounge-in-cheek fun with every kind of cliché of the fantasy genre. Here you will learn everything about Fantasyland horses ("they are a breed unique to Fantasyland . . . they can be used just like bicycles") to princesses ("they come in two main kinds: 1. Wimps. 2. Spirited and wilful. A spirited princess will be detectable by the scattering of freckles across the bridge of her somewhat tiptilted nose") and color-coding ("black hair is Evil, particularly when combined with a corpse-white complexion"). Really, this book should be required reading for anyone who has ever given thought to writing a fantasy novel, and should appeal to fans of Jones' other work as well as for fans of Terry Pratchett. It's just laugh-out-loud funny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Being the children's book guru that you are, maybe you can help me out. I'm tending a friend's kids while she's on jury duty and I want to read them some other books besides the ones they own. However, one girl is 2 and the other is almost 5 (she's in kindergarten). Are there any books that would appeal to both of them?