May 15, 2008


Knut: The Baby Polar Bear. By Juliana, Isabella and Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Gerald R. Uhlich. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

My Bug Book; My Butterfly Book. By Melissa Stewart. Smithsonian/Collins. $6.99 each.

Fly Guy #5: Fly High, Fly Guy! By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

      Informative board books featuring adorable animals are a sure winner in most families, and Knut: The Baby Polar Bear certainly qualifies. It is the latest version of the story of the little polar bear born in Germany at Zoo Berlin and raised by keeper Thomas Dörflein after its mother failed to care for it. There was some controversy over the decision to have the bear raised by people if its mother would not do so, but none of that would be appropriate in a board book, and none of it appears here. There is a brief background explanation about Knut on the back cover, but within the book there are only heartwarming pictures with simple text – the photo of Knut side-by-side with Thomas is a real gem, as are the ones showing Knut playing in his habitat. He looks so adorable and cuddly that kids will have to be reminded that this is a polar bear that will eventually grow very large and potentially dangerous. For now, Knut looks like a teddy bear come to life.

      Insects appear less often in board books than mammals, simply because they lack the “cuddle factor.” But two new books featuring Smithsonian Institution photos get around that by focusing on how interesting everyday bugs can look in extreme close-ups. My Bug Book asks simple questions and gives the answers both in text and in pictures: “What lives underground and can lift heavy objects? A leaf-cutter ant!” Even the everyday ladybug (or ladybird) beetle and the noxious mosquito attain a certain level of grandeur when seen as closely as they are here. However, no insect in My Bug Book has the sheer visual splendor of the butterflies in My Butterfly Book, which follows the same format but includes butterflies alone. The color variations here are extraordinary, from the gray wings of the Eastern tailed blue butterfly to the brown wings with multicolored circles of the buckeye butterfly. Children charmed by these photos will enjoy looking for butterflies – these and many others – near their own homes.

      Kids slightly too old for board books will enjoy Tedd Arnold’s latest Fly Guy adventure, featuring a housefly that looks nothing like the realistic one in My Bug Book. The hero of Fly High, Fly Guy! is the pet of a boy named Buzz, whose name he can say (because flies go “buzz” all the time). This is one smart pet fly: denied the chance to go on a car trip with Buzz and the family because he might get lost, Fly Guy goes anyway – by sneaking into the trunk. He has a great time at the beach, at a museum, and at an amusement park, and of course is very easy to care for, since he eats garbage. Eventually the family – not Fly Guy – manages to get lost, and Fly Guy saves the day by finding Buzz’s home. The story is as silly and unrealistic as the board-book bug tales are serious and truthful. It can be fun for families to make room for both sorts of enjoyment.

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