January 28, 2010


Rock & Roll Shapes. By Salina Yoon. Scholastic. $7.99.

How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats? By Jane Yolen. Illustrations by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $6.99.

How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs? By Jane Yolen. Illustrations by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $6.99.

     The amount of creativity lavished on books for the youngest children – pre-readers as well as beginning readers – is truly amazing. What a great concept Rock & Roll Shapes is! An elongated, very sturdy board book with an easy-to-grab handle at the bottom, it introduces infants to five shapes – square, circle, triangle, star and diamond – through bright colors and very clever illustrations that produce the “rock & roll” title. Each two-page sequence gives the name of the shape on the left and five examples of it on the right. The examples are multicolored, with central cutouts. And each right-hand page contains a shiny silver object that rolls from left to right and back again, passing through the cutouts of all five examples and turning their centers silver. The rolling object is a circle – that’s why it rolls so easily – but kids never actually see its shape, since it is too big to fit through the cutouts. It simply rolls along, back and forth, as children (or parents) tilt the pages, creating an extra visual attraction and a great memory aid to be associated with each shape. Very simple; very ingenious; very well done.

     The How Do Dinosaurs… series is for slightly older kids – it tells stories, after all – but Jane Yolen and Mark Teague keep the board books in the series easy to understand and delightfully offbeat. The idea is always the same: give real-world information to kids, but make believe that family members are dinosaurs, and show (in Teague’s wonderfully expressive drawings) just how dinosaurs do the things they ought to do in everyday (modern) life. But first, show what dinosaurs (and people) should not do, by giving amusing bad examples of the wrong behavior. To show their love for cats, for example, do dinosaurs throw pillows at kitty or toss the cat itself when it complains – or ignore it after school? No! These dinos know to cuddle and pet their cats, give them food and fresh water, change their litter boxes, and play nicely with them. In a similar vein, do dinos with dogs forget to give them food, jump on them and neglect their walks? Of course not! Right-thinking (and right-acting) dinosaurs feed, walk and play with their dogs and stroke them gently and lovingly. The simple lessons here would seem preachy if delivered in a straightforward narrative, but as Yolen and Teague present them, they are much more easily absorbed – which is, of course, the whole idea of these books. Even kids who laugh at the dinosaurs’ initially rough (but not too rough) treatment of their pets will quickly realize what is wrong – and hopefully internalize the lessons about proper, loving treatment of the animals who share the family cave…err, swamp…that is, home.

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