Sunday, January 10, 2010

Random reading

Another browse of recent picture books and some random reactions to them:

I found a spate of didactic picture books, which I really don't like. Maybe it's because I've never liked being told what to do. I think lots of kids are like me in that.

Me and You by Genevieve Cote is about two friends, each of whom wishes to be like the other, which is something lots of children feel. It is gentle and sweet, but I wished for a more subtle or humorous ending than each friend telling the other, "I like it when you're you."

Still, I liked it better than Two of a Kind by Jacqui Robbins and Matt Phelan, which is for slightly older children. It's about being popular versus being a true friend. School Library Journal says, "There's not much here that hasn't been done before but the book imparts a good lesson that needs reinforcing." When a picture book has a subtitle -- "The ins and outs about being in, or out" -- that's a clue it has a Message. (Bias alert: Both the girls who are not part of the in crowd wear glasses. Which registered painfully in my fragile outsider myopic consciousness.)

That fact that he wears glasses even as his alter ego isn't why I liked Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer and Alex T. Smith, but it didn't hurt. This is a pure flight of fantasy. Eliot is quiet and well behaved during the day, but at night goes on all kinds of missions,  from returning lost teddy bears to saving Earth from a meteor. Lots of fun, no moral. Score one for the good kids.

I've known lots of parents, particularly of boys, who worry because their sons are late to start talking. They will enjoy Bartleby Speaks! by Robin Cruise and Kevin Hawkes. It's a charming story that reassuringly demonstrates that some children may choose not to speak until they have something to say.

I saved my favorite from this batch for last. Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott and Timothy Basil Ering is wonderful. The story is straightforward -- the title tells the whole plot -- and conveys the fierceness of a child's tantrum perfectly. The illustrations are also a treat, and they capture the energy and destruction vividly. Finn's fit is brought on by nothing real, but has all the power of a natural disaster and lasts "until it doesn't." It's a great book for any toddler who's ever had trouble containing his or her frustration. Which is to say, any toddler.