ABC, Baby Me! By Susan B. Katz. Illustrated by Alicia Padrón. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.
Busy Gorillas. By John Schindel. Photographs by Andy Rouse. Tricycle Press/Random House. $6.99.
Little Tree. By e.e. cummings. Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. Dragonfly Books. $6.99.
Hubknuckles. By Emily Herman. Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray. Crown. $14.99.
Babymouse #13: Cupcake Tycoon. By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $6.99.
Books need not be large or thick to deliver a considerable helping of enjoyment – and that applies not only to books for the youngest children but also to ones for early readers and even preteens. Of course, board books for kids up to age three are always short. But some pack a surprising amount of information as well as fun into their pages. Susan B. Katz’s very clever ABC, Baby Me! is an alphabet book whose pages focus entirely on things that infants want, need or experience during the day. From “Adore me” for A through “Zzzz, I’m fast asleep!” for Z, Katz – assisted by warm and lovely Alicia Padrón illustrations – takes parents and children alike through all sorts of eventful everyday happenings. Some pages express what baby wants: “Diaper me,” “Hug me,” “Nuzzle me.” Others show the sounds and sights that surround baby during the day: “La la, lullaby,” “Peek-a-boo,” “Velvet bubbles.” Different pages show different babies – as in many kids’ books today, there is a strong multiracial component – so just about any family will enjoy this short, sweet alphabetical tour of everyday life. And for something more exotic, families can turn to another short board book about a different set of everyday activities: Busy Gorillas, in which John Schindel and Andy Rouse show both baby and adult great apes doing what comes naturally to them. “Gorilla gripping” shows a young gorilla climbing a tree; “Gorilla clinging” has a baby holding tight to an adult; “Gorilla yawning” shows just what it says, and showcases a very impressive set of teeth; “Gorilla loving” captures a tender moment between an adult gorilla and a baby. The pictures are exotic enough, and the activities understandable enough, to combine into a book that is fascinating in showing both how different gorillas are from humans and how they behave in so many similar ways.
Children old enough to read on their own can find a big dose of enjoyment in two new holiday-focused books, both for ages 5-8. Little Tree, originally published in 1987, combines a poem by e.e. cummings with soft, impressionistic illustrations by Deborah Kogan Ray. The poem is a touching one about getting a small Christmas tree and imagining how the tree must feel so far from its forest home: “i will comfort you/ because you smell so sweetly.” Ray interprets this visually as the story of a brother and sister who buy the little tree from a sidewalk vendor in the city, then bring it to their apartment and decorate it. The happy expressions of the children nicely reflect the warmth of cummings’ language in such lines as, “the spangles/ that sleep all the year in a dark box/ dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine.” At the end of this lovely little book, the poem is presented without illustrations and in cummings’ original design – a bonus for parents. Parents will also enjoy the Halloween story of Hubknuckles, but they may find it a bit more shivery than kids will. Emily Herman says a ghost named Hubknuckles really does pay an annual visit to her family’s home in Maine, and has done so for six generations. Hubknuckles, first published in 1985, tells the story of what happens when Hubknuckles shows up on one particularly special Halloween. Ray’s atmospheric black-and-white illustrations capture the mood here just as effectively as her color ones do in Little Tree. The idea of a child going outside to dance with a ghost, as the narrator of Hubknuckles does, may seem a little scary to parents, even more so now than 25 years ago. But there is nothing at all frightening in the mood of the story, even though Ma and Pa, in the book, are more than a little taken aback when they find out what their daughter has done. What could be just another ghost story for Halloween becomes, in this book, an unusually warm supernatural tale.
Little books are somewhat less common for older readers, but the Babymouse series, for ages 7-10, continues to deliver a lot of fun in a small size. The 13th of these books, Cupcake Tycoon, is one of the best and one of the most complex (not that any Babymouse story is truly complicated). The ever-daydreaming Babymouse gets into more trouble than usual this time, causing a flood in the school library that ruins many books – so a cupcake-selling fundraiser is launched to replace them. There is a grand prize for the student who sells the most cupcakes, and of course Babymouse is determined to win it – but she is repeatedly upstaged by arch-enemy Felicia, who mounts an extensive advertising campaign all over town. Babymouse does eventually come up with a good idea, which turns into a disaster, but the disaster is noticed by a TV news crew and ends up tugging so many heartstrings that Babymouse wins the contest – but the prize turns out not to be the sort of grandiose item she has been imagining. And she realizes that’s just fine, even though the less-than-expected prize contains an error that causes Babymouse to say, for the umpteenth time in the book, “Typical.” Also included in Cupcake Tycoon are repeated references to an armadillo; there is even a rain of armadillos at one point. And the sister-and-brother team of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm includes a giraffe in the Rumpelstiltskin role in one daydream, a “Cupcake Tycoon” board game, and some unusual involvement by the narrator who interacts with Babymouse in all these books: here, the narrator actually buys one of Babymouse’s cupcakes, just to be nice. This is one little book that is packed from start to finish with action, amusement and all sorts of cleverness. Babymouse fans will have a ball with it.