March 27, 2008


Charlie Hits It Big. By Deborah Blumenthal. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. HarperCollins. $16.99.

What Do You Know? Snow! By Cheryl Willis Hudson. Illustrated by Sylvia Walker. Scholastic. $3.99.

      The real world can be enjoyable, but the unreal world can be even more fun. That’s what attracts so many people to Hollywood – and, in the case of Charlie Hits It Big, even attracts a starstruck guinea pig. Yes, that’s what Charlie is, and after he spots a newspaper article in his cage that says “Pigs Big in Hollywood,” he decides to leave his Fruity-Nut Buffet behind and head out on an adventure. Not for Charlie the years of bit parts and the nights waiting tables – no, he finds his way to a studio almost immediately, and manages to get cast as the leading man in a major film while having to change himself in only one small way: by dyeing his fur. (This Hollywood prefers brunettes to blondes – how’s that for an alternative universe?) So Charlie gets all the trappings of fame and none of its worries, until he finds some worries of his own: all those elaborate spreads of food without any pumpkin seeds, dried fruit or his beloved Fruity-Nut Buffet, and all those people he doesn’t know crowding around him and stepping on his tiny feet. Charlie gets homesick and throws it all over to return to the family that loves him – where, in a neat twist, Deborah Blumenthal has him deliver the line that got him his big break, but in a family-centered rather than film-centered context. The unending absurdity of the story will bring delight to kids ages 3-8, and the illustrations by Denis Brunkus – best known for her work in the Junie B. Jones books – will have kids laughing out loud (check out roly-poly Charlie in an airplane seat, and wearing a ridiculously overdone Hollywood-star outfit – and as an ice sculpture!). “There’s no place like home” is scarcely a new moral, but Charlie’s antics make that well-worn idea – made memorable by, what else, a Hollywood film – seem fresh as well as very funny.

      What Do You Know? Snow! is set firmly in the real, everyday world, providing a pleasant look at an urban snowscape through the eyes of a young girl named Sydney and her little brother, Brandon. The book is aimed at first-grade readers and is well written for that level. There is not much to the story – just an ordinary Saturday in the city, with two kids having fun – so the book gets a (+++) rating. Still, Cheryl Willis Hudson offers a pleasant foray into urban winter wonders, and Sylvia Walker’s illustrations nicely convey the joy of bundling up, playing in the snow until your fingers and toes feel frozen, then heading inside for a warm-up breakfast. There are some activities at the end that parents can do with their children to think about, talk about and explore the language of the book and the events that happen in it. But even without doing anything supplementary, children and parents alike should get a toasty feeling from this warm story of a frigid weekend morning.

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