February 02, 2012


The Jungle Run. By Tony Mitton. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

Giraffes Can’t Dance. By Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

3-D Thrillers! Snakes and Other Extraordinary Reptiles. By Samantha Hilton. Scholastic. $4.99.

Fly Guy #11: Ride, Fly Guy, Ride! By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

It’s Happy Bunny: Love Bites. By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $7.99.

     Guy Parker-Rees is one children’s-book illustrator who gets the body postures as well as the facial expressions of anthropomorphic animals just right to entertain young readers. Both Tony Mitton’s The Jungle Run and the board-book version of Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance are silly jungle stories, and both are made sillier and more enjoyable thanks to Parker-Rees’ handling of the illustrations. The Jungle Run is about a race-cum-obstacle-course that the big animals say Cub is too small to participate in – but she insists on taking part anyway, and goes quickly into the lead when the larger animals have trouble with the first obstacle (a vine net). It turns out that this particular race is ideally suited for Cub, who is light enough to use a rope to cross a stream (while other animals, such as Elephant, run into predictable problems). A final ride over a waterfall, on mats, leads to a gigantic splash in the lake in which no one is the slightest bit hurt; and – no surprise – who turns out to have won? Everyone dances a victory dance and has a celebration at the end, because “they all joined in and they all had fun!” Ah, but dancing is no fun for Gerald the giraffe in Andreae’s book: he is super-clumsy whenever he tries to run, and dancing is simply out of the question. In fact, when the other animals have their annual Jungle Dance – the pictures of dancing warthogs, rhinos, lions and other critters are among the book’s most amusing illustrations – Gerald does not take part at all, because the animals sneer at him and call him “weird.” A despondent Gerald clearly needs his very own Jiminy Cricket, and that is just what he finds – well, a nameless cricket, anyway. And with the insect’s help (“the cricket smiled and picked up his violin”), Gerald discovers his inner dancer, and that turns into a scene of outward dancing that is uplifting and hilarious, as the giraffe flips all the way off the ground and in a full circle. He is “the best dancer that we’ve ever, ever seen,” say the other animals when they happen by – and the moral is that anyone can dance by finding just the right music for himself. The second moral, this one for authors, is to have Guy Parker-Rees depict all the scenes of unhappiness turning to joy, if you possibly can.

     There is no attempt at realism in Parker-Rees’ illustrations, but the 3-D Thrillers! series is all about being realistic – hyper-realistic, in fact. Like other books in the series, Snakes and Other Extraordinary Reptiles is packaged with those familiar 3-D glasses, and certain illustrations (of a snake hatching from an egg and a rattlesnake with fangs extended, for example) are designed to look three-dimensional when viewed through the spectacles. This does not really work particularly well, and kids who have become accustomed to the sophistication of modern 3-D as used in movies may well find this old-fashioned type rather uninteresting. But the book itself is interesting, thanks to such photos as an extreme closeup of a long forked tongue extended fully, a spitting cobra sending venom toward its target, a sidewinder’s unique form of locomotion, a poisonous snake being “milked” so its venom can be used to produce medicine, and more. There are also a few pictures of Komodo dragons, a giant tortoise, an Australian frilled lizard, and other reptiles. The visual elements are the main interest here; the text is bare-bones and not overly stylish (reptile behavior is “pretty weird,” reptiles in general are “pretty freaky,” and so on). There are also some inaccuracies, such as the statement that pet snakes can only be fed live food (many will eat frozen and thawed rodents). Snakes and Other Extraordinary Reptiles gets a (+++) rating for the quality of its photos, despite its minimal text and only partially effective 3-D elements.

     Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy series remains highly effective, though, and the 11th book – Ride, Fly Guy, Ride! – gets a (++++) rating. Like the other romps in this sequence, the book stars Fly Guy and his boy, Buzz, in an increasingly improbable series of events, beginning with Buzz and Fly Guy strapped into seat belts for a car ride with Buzz’s dad. It gets windy in the car, though, and Fly Guy is blown out the window, ending up in a passing truck – and then in the mouth of the truck driver, who spits him out while crossing a bridge, so Fly Guy falls onto the deck of a passing boat…and things only get more elaborate and ridiculous from there. A lot of the fun in this book comes from watching Buzz and his dad try to follow Fly Guy’s path – first in the car, then in a canoe, then on a railroad handcar, then in a helicopter, and so forth. Arnold’s Fly Guy books are all quite short (32 pages), but the author-illustrator has become increasingly adept at including a lot of activity in them, and this one may be the most action-packed yet. Everything ends happily, of course, with Buzz, his dad and Fly Guy heading home on a bicycle, each wearing his own appropriately sized helmet. Fans of the series, and even kids new to it, will look forward to whatever comes next.

     The new edition of Jim Benton’s It’s Happy Bunny: Love Bites looks backward, not forward – back to 2005, when the book first appeared. Seven years later, this (++++) little hardcover, which looks deceptively like a gift book or a kids’ book, is just as snarky and sarcastic as ever. It is definitely not for kids, and not for giving to adults, either, unless you are sure the recipient shares your warped sense of humor and you are not at the beginning of a love relationship. Benton’s bunny is as cute as can be, with long ears (one often flopping endearingly) and a huge smile befitting the Happy Bunny name. He looks like perfect fodder for purchase as a stuffed-animal gift. What Benton latched onto here, though, was the idea of having Happy Bunny look sweet and adorable while having a personality that is, to put it politely, rotten. So at the end of the book’s first chapter, “The Crush,” Happy Bunny says, “You’ve flirted a little, you’ve coughed up a gift. Now it’s time to get to know your cutesy-wootsy monkeyface.” And that leads to the second chapter, which is called “Spying” and includes the observation, “They’re in your thoughts. You’re in their bushes. It all evens out.” Then, as the relationship progresses, it may run into some rough spots, and Happy Bunny is there to help if “things are a little shaky.” One idea: “Ask your snuggly-wuggly if they have any friends that are as cute as they are, but, you know, way less irritating.” This is love in the age of cynicism, up to and including the eventual breakup: “Hate is just a special type of love that we give to people who suck.” If this is a gift book, it’s clearly only for…well, for whom would it be appropriate? Not even Happy Bunny offers an adequately sarcastic answer to that question.

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