December 28, 2006


Runny Babbit. By Shel Silverstein. HarperCollins. $22.99.

Mouse Cookies & More: A Treasury. By Laura Numeroff. Illustrated by Felicia Bond. Laura Geringer/HarperCollins. $24.99.

     These are the books of the year.  What year?  It really doesn’t matter – they’re fabulous for any year, in any season.  And now they’re packaged with CDs that let you hear the words and even some highly appropriate musical numbers.  These winners are double winners now.

     You would expect a book called Runny Babbit to be a silly book, but it is not – it’s a “billy sook.”  It says so right there on the cover.  Shel Silverstein had so many marvelous ideas over the years that it’s a joy to read or reread this final one, finished shortly before he died in 1999.  The book simply involves switching letters – but it turns out to be not so simple after all.  Here’s one short, eight-line poem, “Killy the Bid,” as an example: “Runny bought a howboy cat,/ His buns were polished gright./ He yelled, ‘Stand back! I’m Killy the Bid,/ And I’m fookin’ for a light!/ So give me your sold and gilver,/ And your sorses and haddles, too,/ Or else I’ll hold my creath and bry/ Like bids named Killy do.’”  How marvelous is that?  It’s not just that Silverstein swaps letters – it’s how he swaps them, so he sometimes creates one real word (“cat”) from another (“hat”); sometimes writes hilarious nonsense (“buns were polished gright,” which also includes a newly created real word); and tosses in the sort of silliness that would be funny even without the rearranged letters (“hold my creath and bry,” but it’s also funny to imagine a would-be-fierce outlaw saying “hold my breath and cry”).  There’s wonderful stuff on every page here, about Runny’s family, or rather about how “Runny fad a hamily”; about how “Runny mets guddy” and “Runny hets gandsome”; and about Runny’s friends – for instance, “Calley At’s kittle litten” and the “skancin’ dunk.”  Reading the poems and figuring out what’s going on is a huge part of the fun here – and so is looking at Silverstein’s typically marvelous illustrations – and so is listening to the included CD, in which Dennis Locorriere reads a dozen of the poems.  This book-and-CD combo is a multimedia feast that should delight kids of all ages for years to come.

     The CD included with Mouse Cookies & More is even more elaborate, since its 12 tracks not only include readings from the book but also showcase delightful songs written by Sarah Weeks.  This self-proclaimed Treasury is elaborate, too, containing four complete books dating back as far as 1985: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, and If You Take a Mouse to School.  These are all elaborately circular stories, starting with what happens if you do something with a mouse, pig or moose, and ending with what happens if you do something else – the ending inevitably taking you back to the beginning.  Super-charming illustrations by Felicia Bond perfectly fit the free-flowing prose of Laura Numeroff – these books are equally delightful for kids to discover for the first time or rediscover after not reading them for a while.  And there’s even more in Mouse Cookies & More: cookie, pancake and muffin recipes, the music to some of the songs, and activities ranging from the tame (“Write Your Friend a Letter”) to the not-so-tame (“Explode a Messy Volcano”).  This is the sort of book-and-CD combo that parents and kids can dip into together, over and over – reading a bit, doing a crafts or baking project, then relaxing while listening to a song or two.  It makes for marvelous anytime activities.  And if you give a child an anytime activity, he or she will probably ask you for more…and more…and more.

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