January 10, 2013

(+++) ANIMALS AND ALMOST-ANIMALS


Puppies and Kittens. By Penelope Arlon and Tory Gordon-Harris. Scholastic. $7.99.

Chickenhare. By Chris Grine. Graphix/Scholastic. $10.99.

      There’s just about nothing cuter than a puppy or kitten, and the pages of the new Scholastic “Discover More” book about these animal companions are chock full of cuteness.  Aimed at very young readers, up to about age eight, the book gives simple, basic facts about dogs and cats, and equally basic information about their early lives: “A newborn pup sleeps, eats and poops. …A puppy can bark at about 2-4 weeks old. Before then, it just squeaks.” There is information here on how to hold these small animals and how to take care of them: “Kittens learn to hunt by playing.” There are pictures of many different types of cats and dogs, and of such wild relatives as the wolf and leopard. What is missing in Puppies and Kittens is any discussion of the responsibilities of pet ownership: yes, the book is aimed at very young children, but the pictures are so adorable and the poses in which the animals are shown are so darn winning that many kids will be begging their parents for a puppy or kitten halfway through the book.  Without a firm understanding of the responsibility of caring for an animal that will live with the family for many years, children will be disappointed when their parents refuse to get one – and disappointed in a different way if a puppy or kitten does arrive and not only requires constant care and cleanup but also grows out of its super-cute stage to become a mature animal. Parental discretion with this book is definitely advised.

      Chickenhare is about a bunch of almost-animals and is intended for considerably older readers, as usual with graphic novels. But some discretion is in order here, too. The title character is half chicken, half rabbit, but his origin and reason for being are never explained. His best buddy is a turtle with a beard – again, never explained. As the book starts, the two have been captured (how is never explained) and are being taken to an evil and obviously insane taxidermist (whose craziness is explained and is a big part of the plot).  The crazy guy, Klaus, inspires such loyalty and/or fear in his underlings that they even help him hunt the heroes despite the bad guys’ legs being broken and/or their bodies bleeding internally. Also here are creatures called shromph (never explained). Oh, and Chickenhare and Abe (the turtle) meet and go through the adventure with characters named Banjo and Meg, whose exact origin is never explained.  Then, near the end, Meg tells Banjo, “They deserve to know exactly who and what you are,” and Banjo points out that there are issues with who and what Meg is, too, and then Chris Grine reveals exactly nothing (there is surely a sequel planned, if not several).  Oh – there is also the ghost of a dead goat here as a plot mover; the goat’s relationship with Klaus explains a great deal, or seems to, or in any case keeps the story plunging ahead.  The tale is a simple escape-the-bad-guys one, and the art, while certainly good enough, is not particularly distinctive. The characters are interestingly offbeat, but because readers find out so little about them and their origins, they are less attractive than they could be. Maybe the followup to Chickenhare will play fair, or more fairly, with what readers are, really, entitled to know if they are expected to empathize with characters (even combination-of-animals ones).

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