March 31, 2011


Time to Sleep; Time to Eat; Time for a Bath. By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin. $12.99.

Ten Little Puppies/Diez Perritos: Adapted from a Traditional Nursery Rhyme in Spanish. By Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. English version by Rosalma Zubizarreta. Illustrated by Ulises Wensell. Rayo/HarperCollins. $16.99.

Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom. By Marilyn Singer. Pictures by Lee Wildish. Knopf. $7.99.

Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems. Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Pictures by Barry Gott. Harper. $3.99.

     Authors of children’s books can and do use animals to teach lessons, to amuse, and just to provoke exclamations of “ahhh, so cute” from young readers and their parents. Time to Sleep, for example, teaches about real-world animals’ sleep needs and can also be a wonderful bedtime book that will help kids doze off peacefully. Steve Jenkins and Robin Page – who share credit for both writing and illustrating – give basic information on the animals they portray: giraffes sleep less than two hours a day, armadillos more than 20; birds called bee-eaters sleep in a line, with the ones on each end staying awake to watch for danger and the birds changing places periodically so all can rest; warthogs sleep by moving backward into caves or rock crevices and leaving their sharp tusks facing outward to deter predators; the parrotfish makes a cocoon of mucus and sleeps within it; and so on. The facts themselves are unusual and highly interesting, and the illustrations are exceptionally well done: the animals are shown realistically, but are given human-like expressions that will help children identify with them easily. The hedgehog with one eye open and the smiling gorilla baby cuddled into its mother are highlights. The book ends with additional information on each of the 17 animals portrayed, including such fascinating tidbits as a note explaining that because the koala’s diet of eucalyptus leaves is not very nutritious, the animal must spend most of its waking time eating – and sleep up to 18 hours a day to save energy. Time to Sleep is an unusual and very effective mixture of fact and warm feelings.

     The same is true of these authors’ Time to Eat and Time for a Bath, which are built on the same model as Time to Sleep. But it would be a mistake to dismiss the three books as formulaic, although in a broad sense that is what they are. However, this particular formula is a winning one and is highly adaptable, so the books have very different feelings about them and are complementary – this is a case in which if you have seen one, you have not seen them all. Thus, Time to Eat explains that ticks eat only the blood of living animals – and may wait years for a meal, taking in so much when they do eat that “you’d have to slurp down 6,000 milk shakes to have a meal of equivalent size.” In contrast, the shrew cannot go more than two to three hours without eating or it may starve. Then there is the crucifix toad, which catches insects and sticks them to its mucus-covered skin – and then, when it sheds the skin, eats it, bugs and all. And the tiger shark is so voracious that it eats just about anything, including shoes, bottles and license plates.

     As for Time for a Bath, this book discusses animals that bathe in water – and ones that do not. Among the latter are the emu, a large flightless bird that bathes in mud (which also helps it get rid of parasites); the vulture, which takes sunbaths (and uses the sun to help kill its unwelcome bacteria); and dust-bathing animals both large (elephant) and small (the mouse-like jerboa). Like the other works in this series, Time for a Bath complements its excellent text and illustrations with additional information about each animal at the back of the book – 15 animals in all (Time to Eat includes 17). All these books offer science fact in a form that will engross young children and parents alike – reading them is tantamount to taking very well-illustrated, age-appropriate lessons in zoology.

     There is some fact in Ten Little Puppies/Diez Perritos, too, because illustrator Ulises Wensell chooses to make the puppies of 10 different purebred types, each of which is shown again at the end with information about the breed (“if you are not afraid of being outsmarted by your dog or of having her run circles around you, then you are ready to own a fox terrier”). The information, like the text throughout the book, appears in both English and Spanish – and Spanish takes the lead within the book itself, since the counting rhyme Diez Perritos is a longtime favorite from Spanish-language folklore. Countdown rhymes exist in English, too, and used to be quite popular in such now-politically-incorrect formulations as “Ten Little Indians” (whose earliest version was actually about African-Americans, and referred to them by a term now universally condemned). In the case of Diez Perritos, the original rhyme has the puppies disappearing one by one – getting lost or perhaps even dying. To soften the book for ages 4-8, Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy (and translator Rosalma Zubizarreta) instead have the puppies get adopted, one by one, until there is only a single one left, which stays behind to live with the little girl first seen at the book’s beginning. The authors even include the music that goes with the original nursery rhyme, so families that are so inclined can sing the text instead of (or in addition to) reading. It. The result is a book that is a bilingual winner.

     The two languages in Twosomes are English and the language of love: Marilyn Singer’s couplets range from the amusing to the out-and-out hilarious, and Lee Wildish’s illustrations are equally funny in a highly complementary way. A few examples: “Horses: Nose to nose, hip to hip,/ ours is a stable relationship.” “Porcupines: Hugging you takes some practice,/ So I’ll start out with a cactus.” “Elephants: I like your tusks, I like your trunk./ I like your size – you’re quite a hunk.” The picture of the porcupine “practicing” is a highlight here; so are those of two sharks smiling very toothily at each other, and of a caterpillar munching a leaf into the shape of a heart. This is a very short work – only 18 small pages – but would make a perfect brief read-aloud book or a great gift from, say, one parent to another (adults will pick up some puns that kids will miss, but children will enjoy the silly rhymes and pictures anyway).

     Dizzy Dinosaurs is strictly for children – it is a Level 2 book (“Reading with Help”) in the “I Can Read!” series, intended for ages 4-8. But there is more to it than to many of these easy readers. For one thing, there are 13 actual dinosaur names presented at the beginning, with their pronunciations, and then used in the poems – encouraging kids as young as age four to deal with words such as Acrocanthosaurus, Carcharodontosaurus and Pachycepholosaurus. And the dino names are incorporated into such phrases as “Torosaurus turtlenecks,” “I’m a Pterodactyl pilot,” and “the Sauropod stomp.” The poems themselves are a lot of fun. There are 19 of them in all, by 15 different writers, one of whom is Twosomes author Marilyn Singer. A sample of the verse: “I am Saltopus./ My brain is rather small./ I could be a Dino King –/ But I’m just one foot tall.” For kids in the target age range who are ready for a more challenging book than those usually offered at this reading level, Dizzy Dinosaurs will be a real treat. And parents would be well advised to familiarize themselves with the name pronunciations in advance, before attempting to read the book out loud!

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