July 09, 2009


Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger? By Betsy Snyder. Random House. $9.99.

Sylvie. By Jennifer Sattler. Random House. $15.99.

The Gecko & Sticky 2: The Greatest Power. By Wendelin Van Draanen. Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. Knopf. $12.99.

     No matter what a child’s age may be, books about animals can be a treat. The youngest children, up to age three, will enjoy Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger? – which many parents will immediately recognize as being in the delightful and venerable tradition of Pat the Bunny. Betsy Snyder’s book offers kids a chance to poke, pet and feel various animals (or drawings of them, anyway), with simple text explaining different animals’ outer coverings. For a penguin, for example, “daddy’s tum is soft and stout – a cozy spot for hiding out!” If you nudge a hedgehog, “she’s cute and sharp and kind of prickly. Touch her – is your finger tickly?” The ostrich’s wing is “a fluffy, puffy, feathery thing,” and kissing a walrus brings kids in contact with some rough (but not too rough) whiskers. The animals’ characteristics are not all equally successful – the armadillo scales and octopus suckers don’t really feel like much of anything – but the book as a whole is charming, with the drawings of happily smiling animals being almost as much fun as the chance to more-or-less feel their more-or-less coverings.

     The drawings are a big part of the fun in Jennifer Sattler’s Sylvie, too. The title character is a flamingo with a healthy streak of curiosity: she looks around her at all the world’s colors one day and asks her mother why everyone in the flamingo family is pink. Her mother explains that it’s a matter of diet – the tiny pink shrimp they eat give flamingos their characteristic pinkness – and curious little Sylvie finds herself intrigued. So she embarks on a hilarious color-changing quest, turning herself green by eating palm leaves, purple by eating grapes, and brown by nibbling chocolate ice cream. And then Sattler makes things sillier: nibbling a bit of a baby’s striped blanket gives Sylvie orange-and-white stripes; a tiny bit of a woman’s swimsuit produces a paisley flamingo; and – well, after a while, Sylvie’s stomach doesn’t feel so good, and her body, as it digests all the various colors, turns into a motley bird indeed, with two differently colored legs, which are different from her belly, which is different from her head, and…let’s just say that Sylvie has had her fun and learned a lesson, too. By the end of the book, she has returned to a normal flamingo diet – but with one last twist that young readers (the target age range is 3-6) will really enjoy.

     Another step up the range in age is Wendelin Van Draanen’s The Gecko & Sticky series, which is for preteens (ages 8-12) and is filled with this author’s trademark wisecracks, fast pace and unabashed silliness. The Gecko is 13-year-old Dave Sanchez, whose possession of a mysterious Aztec wristband lets him turn invisible and assume the wall-climbing powers of…well, a gecko. But the Gecko has a sidekick who is a real gecko, and that’s Sticky, who can talk as well as do lizardly things and who, in the grand tradition of sidekicks everywhere, often figures stuff out before his nominal boss does. In The Greatest Power, the second adventure of this daring duo, the bad guy is once again the dastardly Damien Black, who used to have that Aztec wristband and also used to own (or at least control) Sticky. Also here are the ineptly evil Bandito Brothers, Pablo, Angelo and Tito, who revere Damien Black’s badness but of whom the top bad guy doesn’t think much. In this book, Van Draanen is particularly fond of writing with lots of parentheses: “These three men were already in an extremely jumpy state because Damien Black was (understandably) furious with them. …During his recent incarceration (or, if you will, stint as jailbird), the Bandito Brothers had holed up in his mansion, making themselves quite at home, eating everything in sight (regardless of its questionable state or expiration date).” Add to this mix an apparently flying monkey who is really a barista, a diving board above a swimming pool that seems to be filled with blood but is actually full of red balls, and a glossary that not only includes the book’s Spanish words but also provides information on Stickynese (“loco-berry burritos = extra-specially crazy”), and you have a really silly romp. Helping it along are some very funny Stephen Gilpin illustrations (check out the one of Damien Black with his multi-muzzled gun) and a mysterious key in a coffee cup that provides the absolute guarantee of another offbeat adventure to come.

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