January 06, 2011


All the Things I Love about You. By LeUyen Pham. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $14.99.

The Quiet Book. By Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Renata Liwska. Houghton Mifflin. $12.95.

Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale. By Karen Henry Clark. Illustrated by Patrice Barton. Knopf. $17.99.

The Baby-Sitters Club #5: Dawn and the Impossible Three. By Ann M. Martin. Scholastic. $5.99.

     There are so many things to love about babies and young children, and so many ways to express that love! LeUyen Pham, a well-known children’s-book illustrator, shows that she can write as sensitively as she draws in All the Things I Love about You. Instead of dwelling on typical things to love about children – soft skin, wiggly toes and the like – Pham picks items that parents alone would likely find lovable: “the way your hair looks in the morning” (a complete mess, sticking straight up); the struggle to get pajamas off; “how you eat” (speaking of a complete mess…); and so on. Pham, the mother of two young boys, surely got some of her ideas from them: “I love how you skip the letter ‘Y’ in the alphabet because Z is so much fun to say.” And she consistently brings humor to everyday family life – for example, by saying how much she likes to hear “mama” but would rather hear “papa” sometimes (as in the middle of the night). Pham’s illustrations, not surprisingly, are picture-perfect: she captures both the child’s expressions and the mother’s with skill, humor and piquancy. Although intended for ages 4-8, this is a book that parents will enjoy as much as their children will.

     Parents also enjoy having kids be a little less rambunctious than is the boy in Pham’s book. The Quiet Book is worth reading together when things get a little out of hand. Deborah Underwood’s idea is very clever: “There are many kinds of quiet.” With simple language and lovely anthropomorphic-animal illustrations by Renata Liwska (the characters look liked stuffed toys come to life), The Quiet Book mentions “don’t scare the robin quiet” (which you would expect to show a bird singing in a tree, but which actually shows one sitting on a small hill, playing a flute); “thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet” (a scene of understandable embarrassment); “first look at your new hairstyle quiet” (the barber is a stork, the child getting a haircut a porcupine); “do iguanas bite? quiet” (this iguana has red stripes and is bouncing a ball); and so forth. Every page is offbeat and unusual, with the final charmer being “sound asleep quiet” – in which the iguana is cuddling its own tiny teddy bear. Simple, yes; and simply delightful.

     Much more complicated – although, again, intended for ages 4-8 – is Sweet Moon Baby, which will delight any family that has adopted a child from overseas. Karen Henry Clark weaves a kind of mystic fable here, about gently interwoven lives beneath the moon. One life is that of a “perfect” baby girl, born in China to parents who cannot afford to care for her. The other is that of a husband and wife who “could not sleep” because “they wanted a daughter.” Each life story is packed with fairy-tale elements. The baby is placed in a basket, which is put in a river and floats away, protected by a turtle, monkey, panda and other animals. The husband and wife try to bring a baby to themselves by planting a garden and fruit trees and by building a home, but “still, she never came.” So the would-be parents chase a shooting star, look through “moonlit flower beds,” searching farther and farther until “at last they sailed down a shimmering path on a wide river,” the very river where the baby in the basket is waiting for them. The story is beautifully told and, although at odds with the reality of many adoptions, will make a wonderful tale for any newly expanded family – especially because Patrice Barton weaves such lovely pictures into it, the last of which shows the now-older child in a room whose furnishings replicate scenes from the early fairy-tale adventure (such as a stuffed turtle, money and panda).

     Babies, of course, need baby-sitters, for however much parents love their children, they do want some time for adult things once in a while. And it is the adventures of The Baby-Sitters Club that are recounted in the well-known series by Ann M. Martin, which is now being reissued in paperback. The fifth book in the sequence, Dawn and the Impossible Three, originally dates to 1987 and somewhat shows its age, especially in its portrayal of the title character, who has recently relocated from California and fits neatly into the state’s stereotypes (her mom makes tofu-ginger salad, and the two of them eat raw honey with the comb scooped out, “high-fiber wheat-and-bran” bread, and organic peanut butter). The book, which gets a (+++) rating, shows Dawn trying to prove herself as the newest member of the sitting club by taking on the very challenging assignment of sitting for the Barrett kids, who are completely out of control (and whose mom is not much better). There is also a subplot, or simultaneous plot, involving club founder Kristy’s worry about possibly having to drop out of the group after her mother’s remarriage – and the group’s pledge to dissolve the club if she leaves it. There are some mild frights, even a brief worry about a child possibly missing because of a bitter divorce, but nothing too scary, and of course all works out well in the end. Martin’s series, cemented by the reliable bond of preteen-girl friendship, wears well on an interpersonal level even if some of its specifics seem a little old by now.

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