June 22, 2006


The Shark Who Was Afraid of Everything. By Brian James. Illustrated by Bruce McNally. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

My Secret Unicorn #1: The Magic Spell. By Linda Chapman. Illustrated by Biz Hall. Scholastic. $4.99.

It’s Happy Bunny: Guess What? It’s Still All About Me. By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $7.99.

     The animals in books have different roles and different meanings for children of different ages.  For younger kids, a story about animals who behave like humans can make it easier to face one’s own everyday worries and concerns.  That’s the value of The Shark Who Was Afraid of Everything, for ages 3-5.  It is the story of a shark “unlike all the others” (how many children feel that way!), and of all the things that scare him – told in easy-to-follow rhymes: “Sharkie feared the silly seals./ He swam away from electric eels.”  Sharkie decides to run away from home, to go someplace where no one knows how frightened he always is.  On the way, he meets and befriends a small fish – and when the two get really lost, it is Sharkie who tells his new friend not to be scared, then finds the way back.  The soft-pedaled message – it’s all right to be scared, and you’ll be brave when you have to be – is pleasantly communicated.

     Older children start to see the wonder in animals, and magical animals are, not surprisingly, the most wondrous of all.  The My Secret Unicorn series is about a little girl named Lauren who gets her wish for a pony – then starts to wonder if perhaps the pony, whose name is Twilight, is really a unicorn, ready to change if Lauren recites the correct spell.  Lauren gets the secret-unicorn idea from a book given to her by Mrs. Fontana, who owns a store in the country town to which Lauren and her family have just moved.  Girls ages 7-10 will enjoy this “setup” book – of course Lauren does find the spell, or there wouldn’t be an ongoing story – and will look forward to further installments.  Not much actually happens in this first volume, but the stage is certainly set for adventures later.

     By the time they are preteens and teenagers, children are likely to have absorbed some of the sarcasm and offbeat humor that are often expressed through animals in humor books.  The It’s Happy Bunny series uses an adorable-looking but snide and foul-mouthed rabbit to toss around insults, toilet humor and the like.  It’s Still All About Me is not a book but a set of postcards – the second one using this character.  It includes 16 cards and 20 stickers.  The stickers show Happy Bunny with various expressions and in various activities: using a cell phone, wearing prison garb, etc.  The postcards, which you can really mail if they strike you as worth sending to someone, sport such comments as, “Parents are hairy and slow, but they buy you stuff,” and “We should talk about what you can do for me,” and “OK. I’m perfect. Now stop staring.”  A few of the cards are mildly witty, if not overly attentive to grammar: “I know Right from Wrong.  Wrong is the fun one.”  Most are at least faintly insulting: “I’m cute.  You’re not.  Seems so unfair.”  For the target audience – ages 12 (physical or psychological) and up, but not too far up – these should be fun.  But be careful where you send them.

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