March 11, 2010


Bone Handbook. By Jeff Smith. Graphix/Scholastic. $9.99.

Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman. Random House. $8.99.

Have You Seen My Dinosaur? By Jon Surgal. Illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random House. $8.99.

     One of the greatest journeys ever told in comic-book (or graphic-novel) style is that of the Bone cousins – Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone – through The Valley and into a huge war between the forces of good and evil. The nine-volume Bone series in Scholastic editions is outstanding – it looks even better with Steve Hamaker’s coloring than in Jeff Smith’s original, black-and-white, comic-book version – and Scholastic recently added a prequel focusing on young Rose, who was known in the main sequence as Gran’ma Ben. And now there is a handbook giving the back story of the entire Bone tale, with brief profiles of the major (and many minor) characters, short synopses of the primary nine-book story, interviews with both Smith and Hamaker, and background material at which the Bone saga itself only hints. There is also a bonus story set within the Bone universe – a slight tale, but an amusing one. This is not a book for newcomers to Bone, since it will spoil the reading of the main story by revealing a great deal of what happens and why. But it is an excellent companion volume for those who have read Bone, who love it, and who have wondered what influenced Smith in writing it and what happened before the main story began – how the stage was set for the earthshaking events that Bone chronicles. It is certainly interesting to know that Smith started drawing characters similar to the Bone cousins when he was 10 years old; that the appearance of Thorn, who will eventually inherit the throne at the end of the saga, is based on that of Smith’s wife and was the hardest character for Smith to draw; and that Smith’s fascination with Herman Melville not only determined Fone Bone’s love of Moby-Dick but also led to the name Bartleby for the baby Rat Creature who plays an important role in the story. These tidbits of information may be trivia, but to those fascinated by Bone and wanting to know as much as possible about the epic’s creator and the events and characters within the story, Bone Handbook will be a delight. And it even includes some Bone-related recipes, such as the “blank sandwich” (two pieces of bread, crusts cut off, within nothing between the slices).

     The journeys in two new Random House Beginner Books – the ones with the familiar logo of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat – are not as wide-ranging as that of Bone, but kids ages 5-8 will nevertheless find plenty to enjoy here. Are You My Mother? is a classic – the new edition marks its 50th year – and is as charming as ever. It is simply the story of a baby bird whose mother leaves the nest to find food just before the baby hatches – so the baby, after breaking out of the egg, does not know what its mother looks like. The result is a story of amusing mistakes, as the baby bird asks a kitten, a hen, a dog and other animals whether they are his mother, and of course finds out that none of them fills the bill. The bird eventually meets a “snort” – a huge steam shovel – which picks him up and puts him back in the nest, where of course his mother finds him, safe and sound. P.D. Eastman’s easy-to-read prose and simple but expressive drawings are as enjoyable for the kids of 2010 as they were for the children of 1960, when the book first appeared.

     Have You Seen My Dinosaur? is brand new, but is cut from much the same cloth as Eastman’s book. Jon Surgal’s rhyming story about a little boy looking for his missing pet dinosaur is very well complemented by Joe Mathieu’s suitably silly illustrations. The visual joke here is that the dinosaur keeps appearing where readers see him, but just out of view of the boy and all the people he asks for help: his mother, a fisherman, the police, a zookeeper, and others. The story is sheer fun, as when the zookeeper tries to think of animals that the boy can find at the zoo: “Now let me see. What have we got?/ A lynx. Some minks. An ocelot./ Plus two gnu. A kinkajou./ Camels with one hump or two./ A big black bear from Baden-Baden./ A Scottish beastie from Culloden.” And all the animals are dancing in a chorus line – along with the dinosaur, bigger than any of them, but not seen by boy or zookeeper: “But no, we have no dinosaur./ There aren’t any, anymore.” But the boy knows that he has a dinosaur, and eventually comes up with someone to ask who, he is sure, has seen the missing dino. He’s right, too – and kids will enjoy being pulled into this story of a quest that never quite ends the way the boy would like it to, but remains an enjoyable exploration from start to finish.

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