November 15, 2012


Popposites: The Pop-Up Opposites Book. By Mike Haines and Keith Finch. Kingfisher. $16.99.

Legendary Journeys: Space. By Mike Goldsmith. Kingfisher. $19.99.

Baby Animals: Zoo on the Move. Kingfisher. $19.99

The Wonderful World of Fancy Nancy. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $11.99.

      Gift books are on many families’ minds at this time of year, but there is a problem with them: many will be read once, then put aside and forgotten. So finding ones with something unusual to offer – making them more likely to retain young readers’ interest – is especially appealing as Christmas approaches. Popposites, for example, is an extraordinarily cleverly designed pop-up book that will enchant kinds as young as age four or five and still interest older ones. The youngest readers will want to learn the opposites, while older ones, who will already know them, will enjoy the tabs and levers placed throughout the book and used in unusually clever ways. For example, the word “beginning” comes with a picture of roots growing from a bulb underground; pull the tab upward to get to “end” and see a flower grow. “Ancient” shows a pyramid in the desert; move the lever clockwise and “modern” appears – a pyramid-topped skyscraper in a city. “Shallow” shows a man on the shore in a diving suit; “deep” reveals him swimming beneath the waves. There is a wonderfully unexpected quality to some of the book, too. “Lost,” for example, shows a glacier – which makes little sense until pulling a tab causes it to open up and reveal a mammoth “found” inside. “Visible” shows a girl reading a book; pulling a tab turns the page blank – girl and book become “invisible.”  There is even a zipper for “together” that opens up with a tab for “apart.”  Sturdy, clever and beautifully designed, Popposites is interesting enough to be enjoyed again and again.

      There are pull tabs in Legendary Journeys: Space as well, but this is a book for older readers – ages eight and above – and the tabs are used as design elements to expand the short but highly interesting presentations on subjects such as the solar system, space pioneers, moon exploration, living in orbit, walking in space, and exploring Mars.  This is a book that makes a very strong visual impression, but the written content, although minimal, is highly informative. There are brief paragraphs about and photos of rocket pioneers Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard; a picture of the dreaded V-2 rocket of World War II; a view of the Saturn V rocket that expands by the width of two additional pages to the left, is further discussed when a pull tab opens up two further pages to the right, and can be flipped open to show astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in the nose cone; yes, there is a great deal packed into this fascinating book.  Details of the moon landing on July 16, 1969 are here; there is a wonderfully detailed pullout of the International Space Station and another of the space shuttle Columbia; a flip-over panel shows multiple details of an astronaut’s space suit; and the book ends with discussions of the latest in space missions, including space tourism and the entry of China into the group of spacefaring nations. Young readers wanting more detail on space exploration will need to go beyond the material in Legendary Journeys: Space, which for all its attractive presentation is rather thin; but the book looks so good and makes the subject so intriguing that it could well create an ongoing fascination for the information in young readers and parents alike.

      If it is design and presentation that will likely bring children back to Popposites and Legendary Journeys: Space, it is something else that will keep them interested in Baby Animals: Zoo on the Move and The Wonderful World of Fancy Nancy – the sheer number of stories. There are 10 short books in Baby Animals: Zoo on the Move and four longer ones in The Wonderful World of Fancy Nancy, with every book a treat for kids interested in these subjects and characters. The Baby Animals books, which come packed in a cardboard carrier that is shaped vaguely like a truck and is decorated to look like one, are set up by topic: “In the Wild,” “In the Sea,” “In Grasslands,” “In the Forest,” “In the Snow,” “At Night,” “Pets,” “At the Zoo,” “On the Farm” and “In the Jungle.”  Each book introduces several animals with simple text. “In the Sea,” for example, says of the octopus, “I have eight long arms. If I lose one, it grows back! I whiz through the sea and squish into tiny spaces.” The type is varied according to what is being said: “tiny” in very small letters and “squish” in squashed-looking ones, for example. At the end of each chatty section, there are some bullet points with more information on each animal, followed by a “Quick Quiz.”  In “At Night,” for example, there is information on the owl, and eventually the question, “What do owls do during the day?”  And in “Pets,” which includes a foal, there are the facts that “a foal is a baby horse” and “foals have very long legs.”  None of these little books will likely keep a child occupied for long – they are too insubstantial, although the photos are excellent. But as a collection, Baby Animals: Zoo on the Move has more than enough material to keep kids coming back again and again, choosing different books at different times to enjoy looking at and learning about various animals and the places where they live.

      Each of the books in The Wonderful World of Fancy Nancy is more substantial, and each will delight fans of the amusingly overdressed title character, who loves big and unusual words and pretty much anything French.  Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire! features Nancy and her friend Bree watching and learning about butterflies, birds and other backyard wildlife; it contains some actual photos of what they find; Jane O’Connor also includes a plot in which Freddie and JoJo, Nancy’s younger sister, want to join the older girls’ club. The picture of Nancy dressed as a butterfly is delightful: Robin Preiss Glasser gets Nancy’s expressions, clothing and postures just right, here and in all the Fancy Nancy books. Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire! has Nancy learning about poems ranging from limericks to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and eventually, after some false starts, writing a poem of her own for a class project. In Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist, Nancy draws, practices ballet, imitates a Matisse painting, goes to an art museum, is inspired to paint in Jackson Pollock’s style, and eventually joins other neighborhood children in an art exhibit. Fancy Nancy: Ooh La La! It’s Beauty Day has Nancy “spoiling” her mother with beauty treatments for mom’s birthday, and includes recipes for a face mask and foot soak, manicure and pedicure suggestions, even some spa cuisine (“yum yum yogurt parfait”).  The Fancy Nancy books are a delightful mixture of personality and problems (for example, in Beauty Day, Nancy’s mom’s hair turns out disastrously, requiring an experienced neighbor’s intervention), and Nancy’s view of the world shines through no matter what the story: “Put sequins on anything and – voilà – it’s fancy.”  In addition to being fun to read, the books have enough extras, from poems based on names to “extra-fancy lemonade” for tired explorers, to make them enjoyable to return to again and again. That makes The Wonderful World of Fancy Nancy and other special gift books especially attractive for families that hope to maintain the joys of Christmas well past the morning of December 25.

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