October 01, 2009


Lights Out, Night’s Out. By William Boniface. Illustrated by Milena Kirkova. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $17.99.

Dark Night. By Dorothée de Monfried. Random House. $14.99.

Princess and Fairy. By Anna Pignataro. Knopf. $14.99.

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated. By Florence Parry Heide. Illustrated by Lane Smith. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.

The Little Dump Truck. By Margery Cuyler. Illustrated by Bob Kolar. Christy Ottaviano Books. $12.99.

Chief Rhino to the Rescue. By Sam Lloyd. Henry Holt. $14.99.

     Kids ages 3-8 – roughly, preschoolers through first-graders – will have a great time with all these books, each of which is quite different from the others. The illustrations are the most fascinating part of Lights Out, Night’s Out, the third book in a series called AniMotion. This is Accord Publishing’s version of the increasingly popular lenticular animation, which makes still pictures – or, in this case, parts of still pictures – seem to move. The rhymed story here is simple enough: it is about nocturnal creatures, from owl and hedgehog to cricket and firefly. William Boniface gives eight well-rhymed lines to each creature: “The spider spins/ Her silky web,/ As evening breezes/ Flow and ebb./ She flits along/ That silken track,/ Just waiting for/ A midnight snack!” Milena Kirkova creates pictures that partake of cartoon simplification but also highlight real-life elements: a close-up view of a baby raccoon, for instance, or of the head of a wolf. And within each picture, something moves as the reader starts to turn the page. Two bats fly; the lights of fireflies flicker in the night sky; a jaguar’s tail moves from side to side; a hippopotamus’ head rises from the water. Boniface and Kirkova cleverly end the book by moving from the exotic to the mundane: the final scene shows a child’s bedroom with a hamster – a nocturnal pet – running in its wheel. The inside back cover offers additional information on all 12 of the creatures in the book (that hamster may run five miles in a single night!), giving Lights Out, Night’s Out an educational element to complement its very entertaining presentation.

     Another nighttime tale – and one that is especially well-plotted – is Dark Night, in which a little boy named Felix is walking home through some scary woods when he hears a loud sound and runs to hide in a hollow tree. Sure enough, a wolf shows up, builds a fire and sits down to warm his front paws – only to be scared off himself by a tiger – which is frightened away by a huge crocodile. Felix shrinks back in the tree and discovers a doorknob, which opens a door that leads to a stairway that leads to the under-tree home of a friendly rabbit who comes up with a very clever way of helping Felix get home safely. In fact, Felix and the rabbit end up scaring the wolf, tiger and crocodile so much that all three of them come to Felix’s house looking for help – so Felix and the rabbit have to scare them again to get them to run away “as fast as their feet could carry them.” The simple story and amusingly cartoonish illustrations keep Dorothée de Monfried’s book from itself being scary for young children, and in fact make it a wonderful way for parents to help kids overcome their nighttime fears: just imagine being rescued by that helpful bunny.

     Princess and Fairy has a more straightforward story but is put together in a particularly interesting way – and it has not one but two bunnies, namely the ones of the title. Princess and Fairy are best friends who share everything: “Midnight treats and secret wishes,/ Toadstool dancing and fairy swishes,/ Hide-and-seek at Ladybird Bend,/ Best of friends to the fairy end!” They get a letter from the Queen inviting them to a party – and this is where Anna Pignataro’s design gets clever. The envelope, which includes a small piece of paper saying “an invitation from the Queen,” is a three-dimensional element of a left-hand-page illustration, while the list the friends make of things they will need for the party is attached to the facing right-hand page. Then, when Princess and Fairy go shopping, every stall at the Three Wishes Market has its own sign and offerings, from purple pineapples to “Never Burn Pots ‘n’ Pans.” Part of the fun here is trying to find specific objects in Pignataro’s elaborate drawings – a pair of cherries and a yellow rose at the market, a blue purse and more at Three Penny Lane (which features “Trillions of dresses in all the right hues,/ Hats and tiaras and sparkly shoes”), and so on. The friends go to Fairyland Fairground and elsewhere as they search for items on their list, eventually getting so dirty that they show up at the party in “freckled frocks and grubby shoes” – but the Fairy Queen is enchanted by their smiles, and everything ends happily. Little girls will love the outfits and the book’s color scheme, which is largely pink. And Pignataro’s use of glitter makes the illustrations shine particularly brightly.

     There is a princess in Princess Hyacinth as well, but unlike a flying, winged fairy princess, she looks like an ordinary everyday little girl: “She had two eyes, with a nose between them and a mouth under that – you know, the usual things in the usual arrangement.” But Princess Hyacinth is anything but usual. She floats. There’s no particular reason for it – she’s just immune to gravity. Of course, she can’t go outside, because she would float away. And even in the palace, there are dangers – unless she is wearing weights sewn into her clothes and the heaviest crown in the kingdom. Then “she didn’t float at all. In fact, she could hardly move. Florence Parry Heide makes this delightfully offbeat story into a real page-turner, and Lane Smith’s illustrations – showing the princess looking so small in the huge palace, whether weighed down by her clothing or floating in her royal underwear while asleep – add an additional just-right whimsical touch. And there are neat plot twists, too. First, the Princess almost manages to make friends with a boy named Boy, who flies his kite (adorned with a crown) just outside the palace. Then, the Princess – weighed down and dragging herself through the park – orders a balloon man to tie a string to her, takes off her weighty clothes, and floats happily like a balloon….until a dog startles the man and he lets go of the string. Princess Hyacinth ends up having a simply marvelous time in the air, except that she can’t get down – until Boy comes unwittingly to her rescue. Add the way that happens to what happens next and you have a delightful conclusion to a story that does not quite end the way fairy tales usually do – although there is a sort of happily-ever-after to it.

     The happiness is of a different kind, and is decidedly more boy-oriented, in The Little Dump Truck, in which Margery Cuyler’s rhymes chronicle a day in the life of a helpful truck and its driver, Hard Hat Pete. The first line on each page is the same – for example, “I’m a little dump truck/ hauling stones and rocks,/ bumping, bouncing, thumping,/ crossing city blocks.” Some of Cuyler’s rhymes are especially neatly turned: “I’m a little dump truck/ waiting for debris./ Excavator scoops—/ drops dirt into me!” Bob Kolar’s illustrations are enjoyable, too, showing the construction equipment (and all the other vehicles in the city) with bumpers that look like mouths and with headlight “eyes” that glance around and sometimes reflect personalities: one truck has rectangular rather than round eyes, with a focused expression; a limousine looks intensely ahead as its driver navigates through traffic. The dump truck works in the city, then heads onto the highway “to another state,” stopping for fuel along the way, and finally gets to a new workplace to comment, “I love my job – Hooray!”

     Chief Rhino loves his job, too, but in Chief Rhino to the Rescue he loves it a bit too much. Sam Lloyd’s amusing story of Whoops-a-Daisy World (which Lloyd previously visited in Doctor Meow’s Big Emergency) follows the pattern of well-meaning characters making honest mistakes that turn out just fine in the end. After we meet Chief Rhino and find out how strong and brave he is, we watch him searching the town for fires and spying one – to which he promptly races, saying, “It’s time for me to save the day!” But when the chief and his fellow firefighters get to Number One House Row and determinedly get their gear together so Chief Rhino can spray water on the fire, things turn out to be not quite what they seemed – or not quite what Chief Rhino thought they were, anyway. The misunderstanding turns out to be funny – and there is no harm done even though Chief Rhino says, “Instead of saving the day, I’ve ruined it!” But everything ends happily with a big party and some mighty silly drawings to go with the sort of amusing mistake that lies at the heart of Whoops-a-Daisy World stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment