June 14, 2007


Good Sports: Rhymes about Running, Jumping, Throwing, and More. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by Chris Raschka. Knopf. $16.99.

Scholastic Question & Answer Series: Can Snakes Crawl Backward? By Melvin and Gilda Berger. Illustrated by Alan Male. Scholastic. $5.95.

      There’s an exuberant real-world connection to Jack Prelutsky’s latest book of poetry – but it is the watercolor illustrations by Chris Raschka that really make the book special. Good Sports celebrates team and individual activities, and pays more attention to having fun than to winning – an excellent approach that many sports-oriented books miss. There’s the batter who promises to smack the pitch so hard that “I’ll send that ball sailing/ Clean out of the yard,” but who strikes out instead – and then vows, “I’ll get him next inning,/ You just wait and see.” There’s the gymnast who explains everything she can do – and notes, “Someday soon/ I’ll make the team.” There’s the football player who loves the game when he makes a touchdown and doesn’t like it (“Not a bit, not at all”) when he fumbles. There are the Frisbee tossers who enjoy playing “though we aren’t good at all.” The message to have fun without becoming stressfully overcompetitive comes through pleasantly and clearly. And the illustrations, which sweep wildly across pages and double-page spreads in great splashes of color and motion, beautifully convey how much fun there is to be had in organized, semi-organized or out-and-out-disorganized sports – whether you win, lose, or don’t keep score at all.

      There’s motion of a different sort in Can Snakes Crawl Backward? – one of the fine, factual Scholastic Question & Answer Series books by Melvin and Gilda Berger. As in all these 48-page paperbacks, the Bergers present a series of interesting questions, then answer each one very briefly. The whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts: young readers will have a solid grounding in facts about reptiles after absorbing everything in this book. The Bergers’ answers are not, however, comprehensive, and for that reason they can sometimes be a little misleading. For example, in explaining what the phrase “crocodile tears” means, they write, “People used to think that crocodiles shed tears while eating prey.” True, but incomplete: salt-water crocodiles do squeeze out tears – as a way to remove excess salt from their bodies. Despite lacks of this sort, the Bergers’ reptile book is both informative and entertaining. For example, they explain that newborn crocodilians triple their size in two years, adding, “If you grew that fast you would have been 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at age two!” Can Snakes Crawl Backward? (the answer to the title question, by the way, is “no”) covers snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators and crocodiles – putting a lot of solid information in a small, attractively illustrated package.

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