January 28, 2010


The Grasshopper Hopped! By Elizabeth Alexander. Illustrated by Joung Un Kim. Golden Books. $8.99.

How Do Lions Say I Love You? By Diane Muldrow. Illustrated by David Walker. Golden Books. $7.99.

Ferocious Wild Beasts! By Chris Wormell. Knopf. $16.99.

     Each of these books fully deserves the special punctuation mark at the end of its title – two exclamation points and a question mark. The Grasshopper Hopped! and How Do Lions Say I Love You? are board books, and between them show just how many approaches this format can accommodate. Elizabeth Alexander’s book features a big-eyed grasshopper – charmingly drawn by Joung Un Kim – trying to figure out where he belongs. Kids help the grasshopper get into and out of various spots – there are tabs to pull or push – as he explores a soup pot simmering on a stove, the inside of a refrigerator, a grandfather clock, the ocean, and other unlikely locations, each time realizing that he doesn’t belong in those places. The illustrations change appropriately – the one of the grasshopper wearing ear muffs because the clock’s striking is too loud for him is especially amusing. Eventually, after a near-fatal encounter with one of the natural enemies of grasshoppers, the smiling insect figures out where he should be, and kids get to help him hop happily up and down. The book, intended for ages 3-6, is enjoyable throughout – and even offers a soft-pedaled lesson about insects and their enemies.

     How Do Lions Say I Love You? is a board book for even younger kids – up to age five, starting at any age at which a parent wants to read to an infant. Diane Muldrow’s simple text contains gently presented information on animals’ real-world courting habits, such as the facts that swans mate for life and peacocks display “feathers and flair” to their peahen mates. But love is the main subject here, as David Walker’s anthropomorphic illustrations show smiling giraffes with their necks wrapped around each other, cuddly lions rubbing fur, elephants with trunks intertwined, and more. Even the wolves – shown engaging in “a howl and a huddle” – are adorable. And the rhymes carry the simple text forward nicely: “Bears like to say it with a kiss on the muzzle. A mama cow says it with a lick and a nuzzle.” At the end, after reading about all the ways animals seem to express affection, a parent has a perfect opportunity to cuddle, nuzzle and hug the child who has been listening to and looking at this lovely little book.

     Ferocious Wild Beasts! is a more sophisticated book that will be great fun for children ages 5-8. The whole book is a put-on of sorts, because kids will quickly figure out what Jack, the little boy in the book, never quite realizes about the dark forest where he has become lost. Jack’s mother has warned him about the ferocious wild beasts in the woods, so Jack warns everyone he meets in the forest about the danger. Among those he cautions are a huge bear, an elephant, a full-grown lion, a gigantic crocodile, a wolf and a python. That’s right: Jack is warning the ferocious wild beasts about the ferocious wild beasts! And he is mighty effective at it, too. For example, he tells the lion that the beasts “have sharp claws and big teeth and can bite your head off in a second” and “like eating lions the best.” The result is that all the animals stay close to Jack, casting worried glances around and behind themselves, until finally they do see something in the dark – and hear a frightening sound. And as all the creatures stampede back to the safety of the forest, Jack, “who was the bravest,” continues onward to discover something “much worse” than a beast – and gets to go home safely, in a highly amusing twist ending. This book may not teach anything about animal behavior, but it certainly shows young readers the pleasures of a good sense of humor.

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