October 07, 2010


Babyberry Pie. By Heather Vogel Frederick. Illustrated by Amy Schwartz. Harcourt. $16.99.

Sneezenesia. By Deb Lucke. Clarion. $16.99.

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Book ThreeThe Wyverns’ Treasure. By R.L. LaFevers. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Houghton Mifflin. $16.

     Messing things up is a lot more fun in books than in real life. Cleanup is a lot easier, too – in fact, it can be absolutely adorable, as it is in Babyberry Pie. Heather Vogel Frederick’s book starts with a nighttime bath that baby and parents (lovingly and warmly portrayed in illustrations by Amy Schwartz) thoroughly enjoy. But while being toweled dry, the little “babyberry” runs off and heads straight for the pie cooling on the windowsill, becoming a “little sillyberry, messyberry one” as he dumps pie all over himself and all over the floor (in books, this is cute). So the indulgent parents, always smiling, give him another bath and play sugar games as they powder him – as if he has sugar on his bellybutton, fingertips, everywhere. Then they make a “pie crust” of quilts and pillows in the crib: “It’s time to tuck the baby in/ For babyberry pie!/ Pop him in the pie crust./ Pull the covers tight.” Sleepy baby, sleepy moon watching from overhead, and a tender ending make this a lovely bedtime story – although presumably the parents need to get back to the kitchen to clean everything up before they too can settle down for the night.

     The mess in Deb Lucke’s Sneezenesia occurs in a supermarket and in the brain of a boy who – like once-famous comic-strip character Little Sammy Sneeze – is a truly prodigious sneezer. But unlike Sammy, this boy, Zack, does not blow apart his surroundings with his huge (and very amusingly drawn) sneezes. Instead, he blows out all his own knowledge. He sneezes away his name, and then the memory of his mother, who is in the store but whose appearance he no longer remembers. Then he starts sneezing away the history he has learned in school – pilgrims and presidents – and then he sneezes out a whole passel of dinosaurs, which “made a Jurassic mess all over the floor.” And he sneezes out his favorite baseball team, and Christmas, and “a puff of dust, a rubber band, and a few stray facts that had slipped between the lobes of his brain.” There is nothing left: Lucke shows everything scattered around the aisle in the store, and the boy’s collapsed brain looking “like a tire with no pressure inside.” But then the boy sniffs, and that creates suction, and everything starts zooming back inside (the picture of elongated people, numbers, letters, dinosaurs and such heading back into the boy’s gigantic nostrils is hilarious). The suction actually pulls the boy’s mother to him from the deli line, and she bends down to wipe his nose – unfortunately removing just one memory that had not quite gotten back inside in time. Readers find out what it is by turning to the inside back cover; but it certainly seems to be something that Zack will rediscover soon – unless, of course, another monumental sneeze blows everything messily out again.

     There are messes of several types in the third book of R.L. LaFevers’ Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series. The entire house is a mess when Nate and Aunt Phil return to it after their basilisk adventure in the previous book. The place has been ransacked. The family’s lawyers’ office in London also proves to be a mess – boarded up and solidly locked. Nate’s house in Upton Downs, where he and Aunt Phil go to try to trace the person who is likely responsible for their problems, is a mess as well: someone – maybe the same someone -- has been there, too. And while trying to decide what to do, Nate and Aunt Phil are confronted by a mess of a different sort: the possibility that wyverns (dragons of a certain type) will break their long-held covenant with humans and rampage through England. Nate and Aunt Phil – along with Nate’s gremlin, Greasle, whom Nate considers a friend and helper but whom Aunt Phil does not trust at all – must head for a place called Beddgelert, to find out what is upsetting the wyverns and to make things right. Not surprisingly at all, it turns out that the difficulty with the wyverns involves the culprit for whom Nate and Aunt Phil have been looking: Obediah Fludd, descendant of the family’s “black sheep,” Octavius, and an all-around bad guy and troublemaker. Unfortunately for the series, what happens when Aunt Phil and Nate confront Obediah results in a (+++) rating for the book rather than a higher one, because the usually sensible and intelligent Aunt Phil acts like a complete ninny, failing to acknowledge the suspicious things Obediah is doing, taking his obviously false statements at face value, and ending up putting herself and Nate in grave danger. True, Nate himself is not fooled (nor is Greasle); and true, Aunt Phil’s sudden attack of naïveté sets up situations in which Nate can (as in the first two books) prove himself a budding beastologist with a fine career ahead of him protecting allegedly mythological creatures. But from the moment Nate and Aunt Phil find Obediah to the book’s end – by which time Obediah has, of course, escaped – the plot creaks more than in the earlier books (although Kelly Murphy’s illustrations fit in as nicely as ever). A ride on one of the wyverns after reaffirmation of the covenant between them and humans gives Nate a natural high (so to speak) and results in him looking forward to his next adventure. Fans of this series will enjoy anticipating the next book, too, despite the less-than-adept handling of some elements in this one.

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