June 04, 2009


Sugar Would Not Eat It. By Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Giselle Potter. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Catmagic. By Holly Webb. Scholastic. $5.99.

Magic Pickle and the Garden of Evil. By Scott Morse. Graphix/Scholastic. $5.99.

     Cats are not human. This is not big news, and should not be news at all. But sometimes people treat cats as if they are human – and that can be amusing, troubling or, as in the case of Sugar Would Not Eat It, instructive. Emily Jenkins’ book is about a charming little kitten – adorably rendered by Giselle Potter – who turns up on the steps in front of Leo’s building the day after Leo’s birthday. Leo happily adopts the kitten, takes her up to his family’s apartment, and names her Sugar. The kitten plays and naps and then is hungry, so Leo generously offers her the last piece of his birthday cake – but Sugar won’t eat it. Concerned, Leo asks advice of a number of adults in the neighborhood, none of whom appears to have any familiarity whatsoever with kittens or what they eat (this requires a larger-than-usual suspension of disbelief, but that may not be difficult for children ages 4-8 – the book’s target age range). One man says he was always told to eat in order to grow up big and strong, so Leo tries telling Sugar that – to no avail. Another man says his mother used to talk about how long it took her to make food – so Leo tries explaining that to Sugar, who still won’t eat the cake. A woman says she was not allowed to leave the table until she ate, so Leo tries telling that to Sugar – without effect. Nothing works (of course!); Leo gets frustrated; all the unhelpful adults warn Leo not to “give in” to Sugar’s refusal to eat the cake; the kitten gets sad; Leo gets sad, too, and starts to cry; and then, hungry himself, he gets himself some milk and a chicken sandwich. And guess what? Of course, Sugar leaps onto the counter, indulges in milk and chicken, purrs happily, and falls asleep in Leo’s lap. The book’s ending makes it clear that Leo still has a lot to learn about living with a kitten – but at least he has found out about feeding one. And Sugar has stayed adorable throughout.

     The cats in Catmagic go beyond adorable into, well, magical. Holly Webb’s novel, first published last year and now available in paperback, is actually about lots of magical animals, starting with a dog that warns Lottie which way to go while the girl is being chased by some other girls who are just bored enough to be nasty. Lottie is spending the summer with Uncle Jack and cousin Danny, because Lottie’s mother has to go to Paris on a job assignment. Jack runs Grace’s Pet Shop, which is filled with all sorts of animals – including a passel of kittens. And everything in the shop, it turns out, is magical…for those who are sensitive to the magic. Lottie, it turns out, certainly is, and this proves quite a relief to Jack and Danny, who are pleased to have someone with whom to share the secret that all the shop’s animals can – talk. And plot and plan and make well-controlled mischief, too. Besides, as Uncle Jack explains, “There isn’t really a line between people who have magic and people who don’t. Sometimes you just need to look deep down.” And Lottie does just that, finding unexpected depths in herself – and in a stray kitten she rescues from the same girl bullies who had come after her. Enter a witch named Ariadne, looking for a new familiar so her old one can retire, and strange things are bound to happen – and so they do, things both strange and wonderful. Animal lovers will especially enjoy this book, which often manages to be funny and heartwarming at the same time – and which has already spawned a sequel, not surprisingly called Dogmagic.

     The magic is altogether sillier in Scott Morse’s series of sort-of-graphic-novels about Magic Pickle and his sidekick, Jo Jo Wigman. The pugnacious pickle, also known as Weapon Kosher, fights members of the Brotherhood of Evil Produce through his spectacular powers and unending groaners of puns. Morse’s newest pickle book, Magic Pickle and the Garden of Evil, gets a (+++) rating as a formulaic bit of fun. It reintroduces such characters as Squish Squash, Chili Chili Bang Bang and – in particular – the Romaine Gladiator, a previously vanquished lettuce-head who reemerges thanks to some super-grow food that Jo Jo wins from the Magic Pickle by beating him at checkers (hey, this doesn’t have to make sense). The evil lettuce and the Phantom Carrot, who has escaped from Magic Pickle’s prison in Capital Dill, make all sorts of trouble with a fused-prong fork that brings a bit of monstrous greenery to life, until – well, let’s just say the solution to this problem is very, very bunny. Funny. Whatever. Magic Pickle’s antics come through nicely in Morse’s books, which are part narrative with pictures and part comic strip (or graphic novel, if you prefer). And Morse does great sound effects: not many authors would dare to come up with “SHA – ZORRRKKK!!” Nor should they. But here, it works, because the whole premise is just prickly…err, pickly enough.

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