June 16, 2011


A Ball for Daisy. By Chris Raschka. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Buglette the Messy Sleeper. By Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Tricycle Press/Random House. $15.99.

The Next Door Bear. By Mary Kuryla & Eugene Yelchin. Harper. $16.99.

Dixie. By Grace Gilman. Pictures by Sarah McConnell. Harper. $3.99.

     Here are some charmers – with very different approaches to their material – for children as young as age three. A Ball for Daisy is simplicity itself: the wordless story of a dog and her ball, told by Chris Raschka in attractive, unusual-looking illustrations created with ink, watercolors and gouache. For all its simplicity, the tale has heart, as Daisy (whose name we know only because it appears in the book’s title) romps about with her big red ball, having a great time both in the house and outside – until, during an outing, another dog gets hold of the ball and it pops. Poor Daisy! Her unhappiness, communicated through subtleties of body language as well as her weepy expression and one drawing of her clearly howling her dismay, stays with her all the way home and into the next day – she is well-nigh inconsolable. But then the other dog’s human companion brings Daisy and her human a brand-new ball, cementing a friendship and bringing a lovely little tale to a delightful (and still wordless) conclusion. As an introduction to the wonders and delights of books, if not of reading, A Ball for Daisy is hard to beat.

     Buglette the Messy Sleeper is a more traditional book for young people, although it too is aimed at kids as young as age three. Bethanie Deeney Murguia’s story will be too difficult for young readers (much less pre-readers) to handle by themselves, but it’s a great book for reading to a very young child – especially one who tosses and turns at night and messes up the bedclothes. That is exactly what little Buglette does, much to the annoyance of her parents and her siblings, Spot and Red. The bugs, all drawn and costumed delightfully, have a real problem, because they worry that Buglette’s messy sleeping may wake the crow, which is known to eat bugs. But what can Buglette do? The reason she tosses and turns is that she is having such exciting, big dreams, and they simply cannot be contained by blankets and pillows. Still, Spot and Red are worried, so they create an acorn cap to fit neatly over Buglette and keep her in place while she rests. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, and the crow does indeed awake because (indirectly) of Buglette’s messy sleeping – but then Buglette’s dreaming and quick thinking combine to save the family and frighten off the crow for good. The message is that it’s all right to be different and definitely fine to have big dreams. And that is a wonderful message for children of all ages.

     There is something dreamlike about Emma’s adventure in The Next Door Bear as well. This story by Mary Kuryla and Eugene Yelchin is for slightly older children, ages 4-8, and features a slightly more complex plot than Buglette’s tale. Emma’s family has just moved to the city, and Emma feels left out of everything, her differentness accentuated by drawings that show her all in pink while the rest of the kids are dressed entirely in shades of blue. Emma wants so much to be included in the kids’ games, especially when they run through a sprinkler on a hot day, but everyone ignores her. Then she encounters a bee, or rather they encounter each other – and the bee follows Emma back into the building and the elevator – and when the elevator opens (at the back, not the front), Emma discovers a countrylike setting and a large, growling bear. Scared, Emma runs away, but soon encounters the bear again, this time “terribly well dressed. He even carried an umbrella.” And this starts a story of an unlikely friendship that, before the tale is through, shows Emma how she can be accepted and become friends with the other kids in the neighborhood, too. One picture, of Emma and Mr. Bear dancing together under a downpour from sprinklers, is especially special, but all the Emma-and-bear scenes are filled with joy after the initial awkwardness, and the message here – about the difficult but worthwhile task of fitting in – is as valuable as what Buglette teaches about the delights of being different and standing out.

     Written for the same age range as The Bear Next Door but specifically intended to be read by young children themselves, Daisy is a more conventional book, being in the “I Can Read!” series at Level 1 (“simple sentences for eager new readers”). The little girl here is also named Emma, but the circumstances of this book are quite different: this Emma needs to study her lines for the class production of The Wizard of Oz, but her puppy, Daisy, does not understand and keeps making Emma’s life difficult by wanting to play – even, at one point, hiding a ruby slipper. All the misunderstandings are quickly cleared up, though, and Daisy ends up doing a fine job as Toto to Emma’s Dorothy, with the play turning out very well for everyone. Less meaty and more straightforward than the other books considered here, Daisy gets a (+++) rating – but will certainly fill the bill for beginning readers who have enjoyed some of the more complicated stories written for them and are now ready to tackle a book entirely on their own.

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