April 24, 2008


It’s Happy Bunny: Life. Get One (special edition). By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $5.99.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Shell! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

      Don’t expect too much and you’re less likely to be disappointed. That could be the watchword for both these books, which are fine and amusing as far as they go – but don’t go very far. The latest It’s Happy Bunny entry from Jim Benton (actually a modified “special edition” of a book of the same title published three years ago) is yet another fairly snide, moderately amusing set of comebacks (or come-forwards, if you haven’t been insulted yet) by the sweet-looking but deeply cynical Happy Bunny. What makes the edition “special” is that it is only a partial book: six pages at the end are left blank so you can “collect signatures from your friends, so when you forget them later…you can remember who [sic] to make fun of.” That’s not only ungrammatical but also shamelessly exploitative: Benton apparently just didn’t want to create more Happy Bunny aphorisms to lengthen the book. The book also contains two pages of stickers (24 in all) that mostly repeat the sayings within the text itself – for example, “The voices in your head are not real. But they still have some great ideas.” Or: “The best things in life are free. Or at least they’re on sale.” (This appears on two stickers, which probably means something.) The main part of the book contains “Ancient Bunny Wisdom,” after a disclaimer that notes, “Any wisdom one gets from a bunny is probably not that hot. For your own safety, please do not take the advice of bunnies.” One sample of that advice: “Learn the difference between right and wrong.” (Picture shows pink, winged Happy Bunny sporting a halo.) “You’ll probably choose wrong, but you should at least know which is which.” (Picture shows all-red Happy Bunny with horns and devilishly pointed tail.) The funniest thing in the book requires the most reading, even though Happy Bunny says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Judge it by how many pictures it has in it.” Well, this item at least has the word “judge” in its title, so it’s probably all right. It’s a 36-box matrix called “Never judge people. Until you know how.” The six horizontal columns relate to intelligence and the six vertical ones to appearance, so you simply match “Bright” with “Totally Ugly” and find the box that says, “This person could be a huge movie star playing the bad guy.” Or match “Total Idiot” with “Totally Great Looking” and get, “This person would be a great model, and you can pay them [sic] in coloring books instead of cash.” You might create your own review of the book this way, for instance by matching “Kind of Stupid” with “Kind of Ugly.”

      There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Shell! is neither stupid nor ugly, but it’s just plain silly. It follows the same pattern as last year’s similar-format Lucille Colandro/Jared Lee collaboration, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat! And both books, of course, trace their origin to the song about the old lady who swallowed a fly, then a spider, then a bird, and so on. In the new book, she swallows a shell – why? “She didn’t tell.” Then she swallows a crab to live in the shell…a fish to catch the crab…a gull to scoop up the fish…and so on. The bewildered expressions given by Lee to the characters keep the book amusing, while Colandro maintains the increasing silliness level throughout – eventually making sure that everything inside the old lady emerges safe and unharmed. There’s not much to the book, but it’s cute enough so younger children will likely enjoy the rhyming patterns and increasing absurdity of the old lady’s appetite.

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