November 02, 2006


Over the Moon: A Collection of First Books. By Margaret Wise Brown. Pictures by Clement Hurd. HarperCollins. $19.99.

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and Other Poems. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by Carin Berger. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

     Even the youngest children can and do delight in Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown’s wonderful 1947 story of a little bunny falling gently asleep while saying goodnight to everything in his room and his world.  Simple in language, lovingly illustrated by Clement Hurd, it is a book that continues to charm children and parents alike after 60 years.  In Over the Moon, it is joined by a little-known Brown/Hurd companion volume and a well-known book in which they use a bunny very differently.  That well-known one is The Runaway Bunny, a supreme charmer in its own right – and a double pleasure to find in combination with Goodnight Moon and in a size that small as well as adult hands can manage: the hardcover volume measures 8½ x 7 inches.  The Runaway Bunny features a little bunny who is so determined to leave home that he tells his mother all the things he will change into so he can escape.  His mother replies with all the things she will do to catch him anyway: she will be a fisherman to his fish, a mountain climber to his rock, a tree in which his bird will roost.  The idea that there is no getting away – because love will always find you – is another that has resonated for many decades: The Runaway Bunny dates all the way back to 1942.  The third book within Over the Moon is the least known and least successful: My World, written in 1949 and specifically called “A Companion to Goodnight Moon.”  Like the more famous, earlier book, it is an at-home story of the bunny family, but it is not quite as charming and seems a little forced: “My dog./ Daddy’s dog./ Daddy’s dog/ Once caught a frog.”  The color scenes of family life, interspersed with black-and-white close-ups of everyday items (toothbrush, comb, spoon, etc.), are warm and pleasant, and if the book is not quite at the level of the two others here, it must be said that few children’s books are.

     Jack Prelutsky’s level is largely set by Prelutsky himself: he is his own primary competition, having created more than 40 books of poetic word play.  Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is one his most absurdist romps, and one of his best.  As the title and cover illustration indicate, this is a book in which animals are combined with inanimate objects, then described in verse.  Among the denizens of this uniquely Prelutskian zoo – all amusingly illustrated by Carin Berger – are the Alarmadillos: “You’d imagine they’d be calmer,/ No one means them any harm,/ And besides, they’re thickly armored,/ Yet they’re always in alarm.”  Or consider the Ballpoint Penguins: “Although they’ve nothing much to say,/ They write and write it anyway.”  Or the Pop-up Toadsters, whose perfectly prepared bread slices are promptly snapped up by the Toasterns.  Or the Clocktopus: “It moves with slow precision/ At a never-changing pace,/ Its tentacles in tempo/ With the clock upon its face.”  The Circular Sawtoise, Limber Bulboa, Zipperpotamus and many more are to be found in a book that is intended for kids ages four and up – but whose combinatorial cleverness should appeal to all ages.

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