August 10, 2006


The Chimpanzees of Happytown. By Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

Heifer International: Together. By Dimitrea Tokunbo. Illustrated by Jennifer Gwynne Oliver. Scholastic. $8.99.

Shoo, Fly Guy! By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

     The importance of helping others is a frequent theme of books for young children.  Sometimes it is communicated subtly, sometimes forcefully.  The Chimpanzees of Happytown comes from the subtle side of things.  It’s the story of a dull, gray town without playgrounds or trees or anything much to do except work and mope.  The chimpanzees wear clothes, carry umbrellas, ride in cars, and shop for boring things at dull stores – making the parallel with human life as clear as possible.  There is no explanation of how this place, which at the start of the book is called Drabsville, got that way, but there is someone who keeps it that way: the mayor.  Into this unappetizing town comes a brightly bedecked traveler named Chutney, who decides to plant a tree to relieve all the grayness.  The mayor finds this unacceptable and has Chutney arrested – but the children next door take over care of the seedling, and their cooperation with Chutney leads to a color revolution in which the chimpanzees assert their individuality and their village is renamed Happytown.  Giles Andreae’s tale is a pretty little fable, the moralizing is not laid on too heavily, and even the former mayor – who is ousted, with Chutney taking his place – is eventually brought around.  The illustrations by Guy Parker-Rees are a big reason for the book’s success: the contrast between rain-soaked Drabsville and a Happytown filled with children having fun on fruit-shaped playground equipment is especially enjoyable.

     Enjoyment is not the point of Together, which takes a much more forceful approach to urging cooperation.  Heifer International is a worldwide humanitarian organization that is trying to mitigate the hunger of hundreds of millions of people by giving each poor family in 125 countries a farm animal: a cow to provide milk, a chicken to lay eggs, and so on.  Families are supposed to nurture the animals and, when their animals have babies, pass along a baby animal to another family.  Together is not an overt solicitation for the donations on which Heifer International depends, but parents may see it that way.  Dimitrea Tokunbo’s story is extremely simple, explaining what each animal does (chickens lay eggs, sheep give wool, and so on) and then repeating the refrain, “Giving to me, giving to you,/ together there’s a lot we can do.”  Jennifer Gwynne Oliver provides illustrations that make the animals look cuddly and intelligent, and the book includes information on Heifer International for parents.  Families already supporting this charity and wanting young children to understand why are the most likely to appreciate Together.

     To appreciate Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy series, the main thing you need is a slightly skewed sense of humor.  Fly Guy is simply a fly – although a large and amusingly drawn one, with huge eyes.  And he’s the pet of a boy named Buzz, whose name Fly Guy can say (“buzz,” see?).  Buzz and Fly Guy cooperate in their own way: Buzz plays with Fly Guy and keeps him happy, and Fly Guy eats what Buzz makes for him and doesn’t “bug” the rest of the family.  But in Shoo, Fly Guy! Buzz and his family go on a picnic while Fly Guy is out flying around.  Fly Guy returns home to look for something “brown, oozy, lumpy, and smelly” to eat, but can’t get into the house.  So he goes in search of food – only to be told to “shoo” by everyone whose food he checks out.  There’s a happy ending, though, when Fly Guy finds Buzz at the picnic and Buzz has something special all ready for the fly to enjoy.  What is it?  Well, the book’s title is a clue.  This third Fly Guy adventure is just as weird and silly as the first two: Hi! Fly Guy and Super Fly Guy.  This is one fly you won’t want to swat – or even shoo.

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