February 28, 2008


Jazzmatazz! By Stephanie Calmenson. Illustrated by Bruce Degen. HarperCollins. $16.99.

The Dog Princess Fairy Tails. By The Dog Artist Collection. HarperCollins. $16.99.

      Thin narratives with adorable pictures mark both of these more-or-less musical stories for ages 3-8. Jazzmatazz! starts with the simple notion of a mouse coming into a house in search of warmth – but this is no ordinary mouse. It’s a piano-playing mouse that starts jazzing things up and invites everyone in the household to join in. Dog uses his bones to drum on his bowl; Cat plays the fiddle; Bird sings; Fish uses bubbles to “make a blub-blub sound”; and Baby tap dances. Soon the parents join in, and along come neighbors and visitors and outdoor animals, too, and everyone is jumpin’ and jivin’ by the end. What makes Stephanie Calmenson’s story fun is the way she has each character pull the next one into the music. And Bruce Degen really jazzes things up with illustrations that, like jazz itself, become more complicated as they progress, until the final two-page spread is a riot of color and shape and dance and music and a really good time. This isn’t a “message” or teaching book – it’s purely for fun. And that’s fine.

      The fun is more commercial in The Dog Princess Fairy Tails, whose cuteness seems more self-conscious and whose eventual moral is a touch heavy-handed. But the book gets a (+++) rating for generalized adorableness and the fact that young children will love the puppy photos of which it is composed. The pictures were taken by various people at unusual angles, and have been seen in Japan for some time on postcards, calendars and other commercial products. In The Dog Princess Fairy Tails, the photos illustrate an initially straightforward Cinderella story that has an amusing twist: the beautiful dog princess (a pug puppy photographed so her head looks as big as the rest of her body) asks her “fairy dogmother” to send a prince to the ball, and so a prince duly arrives for the big dance – one prince, at a ball filled with princesses. So, after initially arguing over who gets the prince, the princess pups decide they don’t need him to have fun and it’s better to be best girlfriends (and there’s the message, such as it is). Everything is done in the most lighthearted way possible, so no one’s feelings are ever hurt. The pictures are created by taking the dog photos and superimposing various items on them: a tiara, a hat, jewelry, pillows, even a soccer ball. The whole production is well done in an intentionally silly way that should be especially appealing to very young dog lovers – and, of course, their indulgent parents.

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