May 20, 2010


Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug. By J.D. Lester. Illustrations by Hiroe Nakata. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.

I Am an Ice Cream Truck. By Ace Landers. Illustrated by Paolo Migliari. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

Stone Rabbit #4: Superhero Stampede. By Erik Craddock. Random House. $5.99.

X-Treme X-ray. Photographs by Nick Veasey. Text by Paul Harrison and Barry Timms. Scholastic. $9.99.

Chocolate with Vimrod: Life Is a Struggle Between Good, Evil, and Chocolate. By Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     There are many doses of light and quick enjoyment out there for 10 dollars or less – for readers of all ages. For the youngest children, board books can range from the sentimental to the interactive. Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug is a cute little rhyming story about a father playing with a young child (the child, cleverly drawn and dressed, could be either a boy or a girl). Each two-page spread shows father and child in the guise of different animals, doing things together. At one point they are raccoons: “Daddy calls me Rub-a-Dub…we scrub-a-dub our treasure.” Then they are multicolored insects, something between worms with antennas and caterpillars without legs: “Daddy calls me Itty Bit…a teeny-tiny measure.” Adorable nicknames and adorable drawings, combined with pleasant rhymes, make this book a winner for ages one to four. It is not, however, shaped or interactive. But I Am an Ice Cream Truck is both. The van-shaped book – whose rear wheel is a button that, when pushed, causes a computer chip to play “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” – offers the simple story of an ice-cream truck’s visit to a suburban neighborhood, with the ice-cream lady’s red-and-white-striped dress matching the canopy from beneath which she dispenses all sorts of frozen treats “any way you would like.” Everyone gets something sweet, and the book is a sure-fire favorite as the weather warms – ending, as it does, with the ice-cream lady saying, “When you want a sweet treat, just listen for my tune!”

     Older kids – roughly ages 7-10 – can get some quick fun of both the fictional and nonfictional type. The latest Stone Rabbit comic book/graphic novel by Erik Craddock is clever as well as amusing. It starts with Judy Goose winning a remote-controlled-car race as the boys, especially Stone Rabbit, spend their time teasing their friend Andy for being “wimpy” and a “four-eyes.” Mr. Goat says the boys are being too hard on Andy, adding that “graphic literature is essential to any young man’s development, along with a healthy diet” (subtle plug there!). So much for scene-setting. Then one of Judy’s inventions takes Judy, the boys and Mr. Goat into one of Andy’s comics, where they emerge as “The Mighty Friends” and have to combat “The Dastardly Trifecta.” At one point, Stone Rabbit comments, “Spandex doesn’t make the superhero.” Other dialogue examples: “That’s my superpower? I run really, really fast and explode?” “What’s his superpower? Bad taste in hats?” “Evil isn’t bad, it’s just misunderstood. Eventually, Andy has to decide whether his true friends are the bad guys who treat him nicely or the good guys who treat him badly, and finally everything reverts to the normal world, where Judy says she is through with quantum physics because “it gets kind of boring after a while.”

     Kids can go into an unusual world in a different way with X-treme X-rays, which explains what X-rays are, who discovered them, and what they are used for – and then shows X-rays of everything from a game console and cell phone to a longhorn beetle and a tennis player. There is some fascinating information here: for example, an X-ray showing a runner crouched in starting position points out that “the bone at the base of the spine is the remains of the tail our ancient ancestors had.” The X-rays of a bat and a nautilus shell are especially interesting. Then there are X-rays of an airplane (“over 500 X-rays were taken to make up this picture”), a fish, a bus and the people riding in it, and more. Among the facts in this book: “When a lobster grows, its old shell cracks open. This allows the lobster to crawl out and increase in size before its new shell grows hard.” And: “Barbara Blackburn is the world’s fastest typist – she can type 212 words a minute.” True, the facts are not always intimately related to the pictures, but both the X-rays and the information are interesting, making X-treme X-rays a double dose of enjoyment.

     And let us not leave adults out of the short-but-sweet action. A new book featuring greeting-card character Vimrod, “the Bard of Suburbia,” really is sweet, focused as it is on chocolate. Vimrod is a gender-neutral shape-changer – always drawn with an enormous head (sometimes roundish, sometimes square-ish) and tiny body. Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar, Vimrod’s British wife-and-husband creators, give the character various stylized surroundings and all sorts of exaggerated expressions. For example, a huge, toothy, somewhat crazed smile goes with “See no chocolate, hear no chocolate, speak no chocolate. (get hospitalized due to chocolate deprivation.)” Closed eyes and an expression of bliss go with a kneeling Vimrod on a page showing candles near an altar with a chocolate square on it: “I don’t love chocolate (i just worship, esteem, respect, admire, and adore it).” Standing at a microphone with a huge happy-face-style smile (no teeth showing in this one), Vimrod proclaims, “Give me chocolate right now or i will SING.” Not recommended for those who will attempt to eat its chocolate-colored cover, this Vimrod book will be sweet fun for other chocoholics. But no, it’s not as sweet as chocolate.

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