November 26, 2008


How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. By Marjorie Priceman. Knopf. $16.99.

Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie. By Norton Juster. Pictures by Chris Raschka. Michael D. Capua/Scholastic. $16.95.

Doo-Wop Pop. By Roni Schotter. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Amistad/HarperCollins. $16.99.

Looking for Miza: The True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family Who Rescued One of Their Own. By Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Photographs by Peter Greste. Scholastic. $16.99.

     Kids in the four-to-eight age range will have a great time taking virtual tours of many different places through these well-written and delightfully illustrated books. How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. is Marjorie Priceman’s wholly successful attempt to create a followup to How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (1994). Like that earlier book, this one takes a young baker (accompanied by her dog) on a quest to obtain all the ingredients – including raw materials – necessary to make a pie. That means getting, among other things, coal, cotton, clay and granite, in a quest that starts with a perfectly lovely recipe for cherry pie and soon leads to a taxi ride from New York to “the corner of Pennsylvania and Ohio,” where coal (needed to make steel, which is used in pie pans) is mined. Then the trip continues to such places as Louisiana (cotton for pot holders), Washington state (wood for a rolling pin), Hawaii (sand to make glass for a measuring cup), and so on. There is granite (for a pastry slab) from New Hampshire (which “can usually be found between Maine and Vermont”), oil (for plastic spoons) from Texas, and so on – leading eventually to a tongue-in-cheek at-home manufacturing process that results in…well, a cherry pie, of course. The book is fun to read, fun to look at and fun to learn from – and families can try the pie recipe together.

     Speaking of families: Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie is all about what happens when one little girl, who has nice and not-so-nice sides to her personality, visits her grandparents. This too is a followup – to the 2006 Caldecott Medal book The Hello, Goodbye Window. Chris Raschka’s delightfully childlike paintings here enliven a Norton Juster story in which Nanna and Poppy are unsure which grandchild is visiting – Sourpuss or Sweetie Pie. “Most of the time I really am Sweetie Pie,” the little girl explains. “But sometimes I can be a real Sourpuss. Like when…I don’t want to do what I’m supposed to do, especially right now.” The back-and-forth of the girl’s personalities is the charm here, with “I’m going to take care of you” to Poppy on one page and “I won’t wear any of the things you put out for me, Nanna” on the next. There’s an especially dramatic two-page temper tantrum midway through the book, but it soon passes: “Sometimes you can go from Sourpuss to Sweetie Pie so quick.” The grandparents eventually put the girl(s) to bed, wondering who will be there in the morning – an open-ended conclusion that will give parents (or grandparents) a great chance to discuss behavior with their very own Sourpusses and Sweetie Pies.

     The personalities highlighted in Doo-Wop Pop are of a different sort. This is the story of a school janitor named Mr. Searle who used to be a lead singer with a doo-wop band called the Icicles. So the kids in school call him Doo-Wop Pop – and it turns out he has some things to teach them. There’s rhythmic rhyming throughout Roni Schotter’s text, written in the voice of shy Elijah Earl: “I don’t speak. I just stare at my jeans. I’m not stupid! I know what he means.” Doo-Wop Pop gets Elijah and some of the other loners, the shy kids, together after school, shows them some dance moves, and tells them to find their own music: “The very next day, we start to meet, and like Mr. Searle told us, we listen for the beat.” The kids collect sounds (pencils scribbling, basketball dribbling, paper folding, teachers scolding) and turn them into doo-wop – and those five shy kids end up performing, first in the stairwell, then on the school stage. This is a story of finding yourself, learning what’s inside, and discovering how to express it – guided by someone who has been there himself. Bryan Collins’ mural-like illustrations nicely express the students’ initial uncertainty and later bursts of joy.

     All these books are fiction, but there are real-world adventures for ages 4-8 as well. Looking for Miza, from the same Hatkoff family that produced the stories of Owen and Mzee (a hippo and tortoise that became fast friends) and Knut (a polar-bear cub), is the tale of a baby gorilla in the Democratic Republic of Congo and her remarkable rescue by her own family of great apes. Miza and her mother, Lessinjina, disappear one day while searching for food, but Miza’s father, Kabirizi – leader of the largest family of mountain gorillas in the area – successfully finds the baby, although not the mother. In simple language and with stunning photos by Peter Greste, Looking for Miza explains what happens when the baby, too young to be separated from her mother, struggles to adapt after her rescue. The story is basically a happy one – Miza survives and thrives – but as in any real-world tale, it has many loose ends, and the authors do not gloss them over. What happened to Miza and her mother remains unknown; Lessinjina has never been found. Still, the book carefully draws legitimate comparisons between the gorilla family and readers’ human ones: “Miza’s story…shows that family care and protection can help one get strong and feel secure. It shows that dedicated people can help endangered animals survive.” And that is an excellent message for young children – and their caring parents – to take with them after the book ends.

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