Book Reviews: April Picture Book Roundup: Part Two

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Beware, this lot got me to don my mover-and-shaker-concerned-citizen-of-the-world-britches.

Happy Easter, Mouse! by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2010. Intended audience: Ages 0-4.

This is a board book, Easter spinoff of Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. I thought that this book was surprisingly well handled as both a spinoff and a holiday spinoff at that. Numeroff was conscious of her audience and she built a book for them. This book is a color and number primer, a counting book, an interactive book, and it’s shorter than her others. I had fun counting the eggs in the pictures, and I had the kids at our story hour each count a page for me too.

***1/2

Tea with Grandpa by Barney Saltzberg. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K-2.

This is one of the most moving books that I’ve read in a long while. A little girl enjoys a daily teatime with her grandpa. They laugh and enjoy one another’s company. It’s not till the end of the book that it is revealed that all of this has taken place via a video chat. I think this is an important book. It’s a tradition I’d have loved to grow up with (the technology wasn’t available), and I think it’s important to instill in all people the reminder of our need and desire for quality time. In an age where many of us do live far apart from family members, this has become difficult, but Saltzberg here suggests a possibility for the sort of communion we desire to be possible despite distance. I think it does hold the threat however of, if given as a gift from grandparent to child, extolling a paragon that the grandparent may find impossible, and as a gift of a child to a grandparent, coming across as condemnation for what is lacking. This is a book that ought to be given with a promise—and I’d like to see families doing so.

****

Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider. Clarion-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Seeing the title, I had high expectations of this book, and those expectations were not met. The Barbie-like Princess Sparkle is destroyed by the family dog, and Amelia and her mother set out to repair her and make her better than before. The end result is nearer to Lilo’s Scrump than Barbie, and Amelia declares her better than new, but an opportunity was sorely missed by Schneider. The only mention of transforming the princess into a strong or independent person was the protagonist’s demand to give Princess Sparkle-Heart extra stuffing as muscles to defend her from the dog. That’s a step towards the right direction. Girls should be strong, but they should not have to be strong because they need to defend themselves. They ought to be able to be strong for strength’s sake and not because of outside threats. I realize I’m searching for an ideal that may be impossible in our fallen and baggage-laden world, but I would like it to be a possibility, and I worry that this idea of women needing to be strong to protect themselves teeters towards proclaiming that a woman deserved to be raped (or Princess Sparkle-Heart deserved to be destroyed) because she wasn’t strong enough to defend herself, and if she had been strong enough, she wouldn’t have been raped (or destroyed)—an argument as stupid as that she shouldn’t have worn a skirt. Also, is the lesson here that a woman who looks like a typical princess cannot defend herself? That she has to look like a patchwork doll to be safe? I do enjoy as a reader the dog that lingers on each page growling at Princess Sparkle-Heart, but when I look at it with the more detached eyes of the feminist I see a dark, malevolent, and ever present threat rather than a jealous family dog, and that’s unsettling. Josh Schneider, what are you trying to tell me?

I recognize that I am seeing issues that Schneider did not and that his intention was to write a sweet story of a mother helping her daughter with the simple lesson that a girl need not look to the world’s ideal of beauty to be worthwhile. Maybe he should have asked these questions too, but how do you condense all of this into a picture storybook? If I could answer that question, maybe I wouldn’t need to ask the questions anymore.

**

Puppy and Friends: Touch and Feel by the staff of St. Martin’s Press. Sandy Creek-St. Martin’s, 2010.

This is a touch and feel book with puppies. I did like that instead of telling the child what the objects felt like, the text asked the child to describe what the objects felt like. That’s an interesting twist. It makes it less of a primer, but I think it makes it actually a more important book. Shouldn’t we be teaching our children to think and express themselves? Rather than illustrations, this book uses photographs—photographs of puppies. I like photographs of puppies.

***1/2

Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! by Todd Tuell and illustrated by Tad Carpenter. Abrams Appleseed-Abrams, 2014.

Ninjas. Well, I had to see, didn’t I? (Have to keep up-to-date on the press being given my rivals and make sure that our books are better; so there you are, I might be biased, though I’ve loved ninja protagonists before). A rambunctious child dons a ninja outfit and proceeds to sneak and kick and karate chop his way through the pages. This ninja seems mostly to use his powers selfishly or cruelly, however, to sneak up on his dog or brother or to escape his grandmother’s kisses, and he faces no consequences for his actions, other than to be told once to stop by a brother. The book would sit better with me I think if there had been some sense that the ninja did heed his brother’s upset cry and changed because of it. Instead, the text continues with a very repetitive sentence pattern—“Ninja this. Ninja that”—without any break in the rhythm to indicate a change, and in the end the brother for some reason dons a black mask too—perhaps because there seems to be no consequences for the ninja and the ninja seems to be allowed to do whatever he wants and always get his way; that could be very appealing.

**

Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Dial-Penguin, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I really enjoyed this book myself, but it seemed a bit long to hold the attention of the children I had at story hour. Cat, who does not speak but holds up pictorial signs to which the text responds, is upset that the Easter Bunny is getting so much attention and love. The reader explains to Cat that the Easter Bunny is loved because he leaves gifts for children. Cat decides he too will leave gifts for children to earn love. The Easter Bunny delivers a gift for Cat, and Cat who notices how tired the Easter Bunny is and is distraught by the idea the Easter Bunny has no time for naps, decides to help the Easter Bunny with his delivery. This is the second book (the other being Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure) that I read that expounds a new idea that Easter’s message is to help others. As I said, it’s not a bad message, but I don’t really know where this idea came from, though I suppose Jesus did help us, and we are called to imitate Him. The real draw is the back and forth of the reader and a very expressively illustrated Cat.

***1/2

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