March 18, 2010


Erroll. By Hannah Shaw. Knopf. $15.99.

Porky and Bess. By Ellen Weiss and Mel Friedman. Illustrated by Marsha Winborn. Random House. $12.99.

Calvin Coconut #3: Dog Heaven. By Graham Salisbury. Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. Wendy Lamb Books. $12.99.

     What messes the animals in these books get into! Erroll, of the book Erroll, is a squirrel who not only gets into messes but also gets a boy, Bob, into them as well. Bob finds Erroll in a snack package, and the two soon strike up a conversation – yes, Erroll is a snack-packed talking squirrel. And a messy one. He loves peanut butter, but eats the sandwiches that Bob makes for him so sloppily that Bob needs to give him a bath. Try to give him one, anyway. Erroll runs, jumps and climbs all over, “all the way to the top of Mom’s favorite curtains,” and leaves dirty paw prints everywhere. Mom is not amused – and is taken aback when Erroll introduces himself. She insists that she and Bob take Erroll home to the woods, and they do, and everything ends happily (if messily), until the next morning, in the box of cereal he opens for his breakfast, Bob finds something else that immediately starts making a mess. Kids ages 5-8 will find this silly, absurd and absurdly silly book delightful. Parents may be less than overjoyed at the prospect of their kids searching diligently through packaging for who-knows-what sort of mess maker – but Hannah Shaw’s unfailing good humor in storytelling, and her amusing way with illustrations, should win over everyone in the family.

     Older kids will be won over by Porky and Bess even if they don’t get the pun on the title of Gershwin’s famous opera. This is a Step 4 “Step into Reading” book for grades two and three – roughly ages 7-9 – and its messiness is more a matter of lifestyle than mischief. The unlikely pairing of the title is between best friends Porky (a pig) and Bess (a cat). Porky is the messy one (no big surprise there): he lives alone and tosses stuff every which way in his house, although he does clean up eventually. Bess, who has three kittens, is a neatnik who wants everything to be perfect all the time – she even practices hard so she can do perfect moves on ice skates. But for all their differences of style and approach, the two share a special friendship, which comes to the fore in two things that Porky is doing: baking a cake and writing a poem. No-mess Bess (that isn’t her name, but it could be) helps Porky with his moon cake after the pig discovers that his can of moonlight has nothing in it. Bess helpfully supplies a box of nighttime, and the two friends – working in the dark – make a delicacy that Porky declares is “maybe even better” than moon cake. And Bess’ help with the cake also helps Porky complete the four-line poem that he has been trying to write for Poem-Reading Day: he makes it a poem about how much he likes Bess. The unlikely pairing of these two characters is nicely handled both by authors Ellen Weiss and Mel Friedman and by illustrator Marsha Winborn, who do not harshly judge Porky’s messiness (or Bess’ neatness, for that matter), but who clearly show that very different people (or animals, anyway) can get along just fine.

     But what about dog messes? Real and imagined ones are front and center in Calvin Coconut: Dog Heaven, Graham Salisbury’s third book for ages 7-10 about a boy growing up on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Calvin really, really wants a dog, and most of the book is about the contortions he goes through to try to convince his mother and his 16-year-old babysitter, Stella, to let him have one. A lot of convincing is needed, because there is so much messiness along the way. Mom’s boyfriend, Ledward, tells about a really dirty dog that Calvin’s teacher, Mr. Purdy, once had – it was white and loved mud, so it had to be hosed off all the time. Ledward himself not only has dogs but also has a rather well-trained (but very messy) pig, which rides in the front seat of his jeep (Jacqueline Rogers’ pictures of this and of the dirty dog being hosed off are just two of her perfectly apt illustrations). The book is full of messes: the garbage that Calvin takes out to show how responsible he can be, the “dogs stink” comment that Calvin’s mom makes in explaining why Calvin cannot have one, the messy room that Calvin fears will prove he cannot take care of a dog, and the huge mess at the Humane Society made by the dog that Calvin sees there and immediately decides to adopt…somehow. The “somehow” eventually works out, and even Stella comes around to accepting the dog, Streak – despite the mess the pup makes when Ledward gives her a fish head. So Calvin’s life becomes increasingly complex, which is sometimes a synonym for “messy” but in this case is more like a synonym for “grown up.” Or at least growing up, which Calvin is doing nicely.

No comments:

Post a Comment