September 23, 2010


Princess Baby on the Go! By Karen Katz. Schwartz & Wade. $7.99.

Bosco’s Busy Morning. By Chuck Murphy. Robin Corey Books. $12.99.

Somewhere So Sleepy. By Diane Muldrow. Illustrated by Jui Ishida. Golden Books. $7.99.

Samuel’s Baby. By Mark Elkin. Illustrated by Amy Wummer. Tricycle Press/Random House. $15.99.

Zigzag Kids—No. 1, Number One Kid; No. 2, Big Whopper. By Patricia Reilly Giff. Illustrated by Alasdair Bright. Wendy Lamb Books, $12.99 each (hardcover); Yearling, $4.99 each (paperback).

     Kids of all ages love books about what other children – or animals with childlike characteristics – do with themselves during the day and at night, at home and at school. Finding such books is easy. Then you just have to decide which ones your particular kids will consider most enjoyable. Princess Baby on the Go! is a lift-the-flap board book with a built-in carrying handle, designed for girls up to age four and featuring the ever-adorable, crown-wearing title character (not a real princess but a baby who likes to act like one) getting ready for a sleepover at Grandma’s. But she can’t find something she needs to take with her – so she looks all over her room for the mysterious item. Everywhere readers help her look – the book is full of flaps to lift – Princess Baby finds something, but not the particular thing she wants…until the very end, of course, when she and her prince (a crown-wearing teddy bear) are all set for their sleepover. Cute characters, simple ideas and a nice design all come together here.

     Bosco’s Busy Morning is for the same age range, but both boys and girls will delight in this board book that includes lots of flaps, popups and pull tabs. Bosco is a puppy, but he thinks like a child – and narrates the book, which is a very busy one indeed. Characters pop up while other characters talk in the margins. For instance, Bosco looks through a hole in one page to see his friend Pepper, a kitten, asleep. While he gets her to wake up and play, ladybugs mention colors and numbers that are shown on the page; butterflies talk about what they see; and folding out a flap reveals three mice who are also trying to get Pepper to wake up. Lots happens on every page here – the book is exceptionally well designed, filled with elements that will attract young children (but the popups can be a bit fragile, so watch out for little hands that may unintentionally tear them). The mice lead Bosco, Pepper and their friend Pete (another pup) on a merry chase around the playground as the one-to-10 counting progresses from page to page. The final two-page spread features a really extraordinary popup of a big slide; a tab that, when pulled, makes Bosco slide down it; and a flap that reveals 10 number blocks. There is an amazing amount of material and creativity packed into Chuck Murphy’s winner of a book.

     Things are quieter in Somewhere So Sleepy, a board book featuring full-page flaps, in which animals “somewhere” are getting ready for sleep – as is “a boy or girl just like you.” Quiet charm is the watchword in this book for ages 2-5: a baby elephant sloshes in the mud, and opening the flap shows mother elephant giving him a bath; a little lion tries not to yawn, but does when the flap is opened; a puppy fluffs up her bed, and opening the flap shows her lying down comfortably in it. Some flaps open from the bottom, others from the left, and parents should check them before starting the book to avoid any bedtime frustration. Certainly nothing in the book itself will be frustrating, though – the adorable animals falling cutely asleep (a droopy-eyed little hippo is especially notable) will give young children pleasant thoughts as they themselves prepare to drift off for a night’s rest.

     Samuel’s Baby, for ages 3-6, is a delight in its own way as it takes the day-in-a-life theme into a school setting. At show-and-tell the Monday before spring vacation, Samuel tells his kindergarten class that he is about to have a baby – and even though one of the girls says only women can have babies, soon everyone in the class is preparing for a baby of some sort. All the kids put things under their shirts, from dolls to a truck to a dinosaur toy to a puppy; and when one girl says she is having twins, another says she is having triplets. The kids practice holding their “babies,” carrying them and diapering them – but as they do, Samuel starts to worry about what will happen when the real baby arrives in his house. What if the baby breaks his toys, cries all the time, has stinky diapers? The amusing story and the more-serious one about Samuel’s worries coexist seamlessly – teacher and first-time author Mark Elkin balances them adeptly, and Amy Wummer’s illustrations nicely capture the chaos and creativity of a kindergarten class in full fantasy mode. After spring break, Samuel returns to class – with his dad and his new baby sister. And all the other kids take their “babies” out, too, including a fish in a bowl of water and a hamster in a plastic ball. And then Samuel reveals that despite the crying and stinky diapers, his sister is perfect – a delightfully (and believably) upbeat ending to a wonderfully told story.

     Samuel’s class is an ethnic melting pot, as are many classes in kids’ books these days, but Elkin and Wummer do not make a big deal about it; this casual acceptance of differences in appearance is highly effective. The class diversity is laid on more thickly and overtly in the new Zigzag Kids series, and as a result seems more intrusive – although the first two of Patricia Reilly Giff’s new books still get (+++) ratings. This is an after-school series – set in a center where kids stay after their class day at Zelda A. Zigzag School has ended – so things can be more freeform than they would be within a structured school day. The result is books for ages 6-9 in which the interactions among the 11 kids focus on friendships and interpersonal relations. Number One Kid is about Mitchell McCabe, the new kid at school, who worries about friends, fitting in, and the “#1” shirt his grandmother gave him. Giff’s determination to ensure multiracial and multiethnic diversity is abundantly clear not only from the children’s pictures (you see their heads at the start of the paperback books, their whole bodies at the start of the hardcovers) but also from the names (such as Habib and Ramón) and some of the dialogue (Sumiko says “hai” for “yes” and teaches that “koun” means “good luck”). This is not much of a big deal in the first book, in which Mitchell’s shirt ends up inspiring the lunch lady to make cupcakes with the number “1” on top. But it comes to greater prominence in Big Whopper, in which the focus is on Destiny Washington. Readers (adult readers familiar with naming trends, anyway) might expect that to be the name of an African-American girl, but in fact the black girl in this group is named Yolanda – and Destiny Washington is blonde and Caucasian. More importantly for the plot, she cannot think of anything to “discover” for “Discovery Week,” so when someone comments that a picture Destiny is drawing looks like a president, Destiny announces that she is descended from President Washington. Except that she isn’t – and she gives the president’s first name as “Abrehem.” Destiny then spends the rest of the book trying to figure out how to correct the lie (the “big whopper”) that she has told – and learns in the process that she is special anyway, and that she is not the only kid in the group prone to a touch of exaggeration. The straightforward lessons and pleasant interactions are the enjoyable parts of this series by the author of the Polk Street School series, which is about kids during the school day. Alasdair Bright’s pleasant illustrations help move the stories along nicely. Young readers who match their identity to that of one or another of the various Zigzag Kids will be the ones who enjoy this series the most.

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