February 19, 2009


Baby Nose to Baby Toes. By Vicky Ceelen. Random House. $6.99.

Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants. By J.D. Lester. Illustrations by Hiroe Nakata. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.

What a Good Big Brother! By Diane Wright Landolf. Paintings by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher. Random House. $16.99.

Planet Earth: Wild Amazon. By Lisa L. Ryan-Herndon. Scholastic. $3.99.

     The youngest children, up to age four, are privileged to have some truly wonderful board books created just for them – including Baby Nose to Baby Toes and Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants. The first of these juxtaposes photos of human babies with ones of baby animals doing similar (or occasionally contrasting) things – and since the photos are big, clear close-ups, they will be easy for even very young children to see and enjoy. Some of the pairs are especially wonderful, such as “baby’s clean as clean can get” on the left (wide-eyed baby with a big smile and tongue almost hanging out) and “puppy’s dripping, sopping wet” on the right (big-eyed puppy with paws on the edge of a sink or tub and with tongue definitely hanging out). There is also a delightful left-page photo of two babies, both looking toward something obviously fascinating – contrasted with, on the right-hand page, two puppies also looking toward something fascinating…which, because of the angle of their heads, appears to be the babies on the facing page. But this is not to say that Vicky Ceelen’s book includes only puppies: there are pictures of a fawn, lion cub, elephant, frog, chimpanzee, and even a snail here, all of them delightfully framed to show similarities or differences between animals and people.

     Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants involves humans and animals, too, but not quite the same way. J.D. Lester’s book is about endearing nicknames: first, a baby wonders why his mommy calls him Monkeypants; then, various baby creatures describe their mothers’ nicknames for them in a series of pleasant rhymes. For instance, for horses, “Mommy calls me Giddyup…it’s lots of fun to ride me.” And then, for monkeys, “Mommy calls me Tagalong…I keep her right beside me.” Hiroe Nakata’s illustrations are pleasant and amusing, the ones of pandas and kangaroos especially so. And the book’s ending with a baby-and-mommy hug seems just right – and makes Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants a good choice for bedtime reading.

     For slightly older kids, ages 3-6 – especially ones with a new baby at home, or expecting one soon -- What a Good Big Brother! offers some basics of childcare within a lovely, gentle story. Diane Wright Landolf’s story of Cameron and his little sister, Sadie, shows the various reasons Sadie cries – she needs changing, a nap, food – and then shows how Cameron helps Sadie stop crying. But what happens when Sadie cries and the parents cannot figure out why? At that point, Cameron really comes into his own, finding a way to calm Sadie down and giving everyone a big and happy surprise. The illustrative paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher nicely capture the watercolor warmth of a family adjusting to a new baby at home, and the smiles on the faces of Cameron and Sadie at the end of the book will have real-world families smiling as well.

     Some elements of the latest Planet Earth collaboration between the BBC and Scholastic are a delight in their own, nonfictional way, but Wild Amazon is something less than an unalloyed triumph. The photos – the BBC’s contribution – are absolutely marvelous, from the overhead view of the Amazon River and the forest around it to the close-ups of such creatures as the pirarucu, tucuxi and bullet ant. But Lisa L. Ryan-Herndon’s text is disappointing, partly for what it does and partly for what it omits. There are quite a few grammatical mistakes here that somehow got through the editing process. For example, “the river can look like it’s boiling” is wrong – it should be “look as if it is boiling” or “can seem to be boiling.” And “echolocation is when sound waves are used to find objects” should be “echolocation is a process by which sound waves are used to find objects,” or the sentence should be rewritten altogether. As for omissions, it is fine to include animals whose odd names children have probably never heard – the book is a Level 3 Reader, intended for first through third grade. But when an animal is unique to the point of being enigmatic, as is the case with the hoatzin, it would make sense to mention that fact and not consign the creature to dismissal by simply mentioning its nickname of “stinkbird.” A little context would help, too: saying that an acre of rainforest land may be home to three million ants means little without a comparison with the number of ants elsewhere. Planet Earth: Wild Amazon has enough fascinating photos and interesting facts to get a (+++) rating, but a better narrative would have ratcheted it up a notch.

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