September 25, 2008

(++++) BABIES AND BEYOND

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. By Mem Fox. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Harcourt. $16.

Magic Trixie. By Jill Thompson. HarperTrophy. $7.99.

Mo’s Mischief: Super Cool Uncle. By Hongying Yang. HarperTrophy. $3.99.

     The magic of babies seems to emanate from all parts of their bodies. But their tiny fingers and toes are extra-special, and those digits are what Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury celebrate in the thoroughly charming Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Fox’s simple poetry features the recurring refrain, “both of those babies,/ as everyone knows/ had ten little fingers/ and ten little toes.” Babies born far away or nearby, in the city or country, healthy or not feeling too well, living in a land of ice or one of heat, all have those adorable fingers and toes. That’s the whole book – and it is enough, thanks to Oxenbury’s endearing illustrations, which eventually produce a group of babies from all over the world, all of them having far more in common than their superficial differences – a subtle and worthwhile message. Although it is written at the level of young children, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes actually seems in many ways to be more of a book for adults, allowing them to appreciate the wonderfulness of small people’s hands and feet. Parents may want to read it with a child when a new brother or sister is soon to arrive.

     Maybe Magic Trixie’s parents should have read it to her. Magic Trixie really is magical – in fact, Trixie’s whole witchy family is. But in Jill Thompson’s graphic novel, Trixie’s problems are quite nonmagical enough: there’s a new baby named Abby Cadabra in the house, and she gets all the attention, and gets to sleep late and ride with daddy on his broom and even teethe on the magic wand that Trixie isn’t allowed to use. Trixie isn’t old enough yet to use the big spellbook or cauldron, either, and in any case there’s no magic that will make people focus on her rather than the baby. Or is there? As she goes through her hilariously skewed day with her monster, werewolf and vampire buddies and her ghost of a teacher, Trixie comes up with a show-and-tell idea that should top everything – and bring her the attention she wants. If she can’t make the baby disappear, which is what she really wants to do, she can take it to school! And Trixie’s plan works – but not as she thought it would. Her friends love the baby and admit that Abby is the best thing ever at show-and-tell – but they tell Trixie how lucky she is to have a baby sister, and that makes Trixie see her family situation in a whole different way. That is, until her parents – who knew nothing of Trixie’s plans for Abby – show up at school… In any case, the weird drawings and amusing relationships of the otherworldly characters are a bigger attraction in Magic Trixie than the plot itself. The vampire boys who dig everywhere so they can visit places in daytime, the monster boy whose hand keeps falling off, the witchy grandma who wants to be called “Mimi” so she doesn’t feel like a grandma – these are wonderfully drawn characters whose antics will have kids looking forward to Magic Trixie’s next adventure, Magic Trixie Sleeps Over!

     The mischief goes beyond the baby stage in the latest installment of the Mo’s Mischief series, in which Mo Shen Ma continues getting into trouble largely because it’s more fun than doing nothing and being bored. Each Mo’s Mischief book follows a similar pattern: Mo comes up with a mischievous plot that misfires in some way, but everything still ends good-humoredly. In Super Cool Uncle, which gets a (+++) rating, the plot has to do with Uncle Dink, a software engineer who lives alone and who, Mo decides, needs a wife. So Mo sets out to find him one – such as Ms. Lin, one of the teachers at Mo’s school. Things go pretty well after an initial not-so-special meeting, because “Mo discovered that Uncle Dink and Ms. Lin had something in common – they both liked Mo, and for the same reason: he was mischievous, but he was honest, and kind too.” But Mo’s plans don’t quite work out – although he soon comes up with new ones. And since the book includes hiking, mountain climbing, bungee jumping and a visit to a “ceramic cafĂ©,” there should be plenty in it to maintain the interest of kids who have their own good-hearted but slightly mischievous personalities.

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