February 14, 2013

(+++) BITS OF LOVE


An Awesome Book of Love! By Dallas Clayton. Harper. $16.99.

Nancy Clancy, Book 2: Secret Admirer. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $9.99.

Splat the Cat: Funny Valentine. Based on the creation of Rob Scotton. Illustrations by Joe Merkel. HarperFestival. $6.99.

      Love isn’t just in the air – it’s on the pages and in the margins and generally all over the place in these books, which find three different amusing ways to pay homage to Valentine’s Day and all things love-ly.  An Awesome Book of Love! is Dallas Clayton’s followup to An Awesome Book! Its format is much the same, its sweetness is much the same, its rhymes (and partial, not-quite rhymes) are much the same, and its sentiment is much the same. All of which is very pleasant indeed.  Much of the charm of Clayton’s books comes from his meticulous illustrations of sentiments that are, on their face, very simple. “If you were spring seasons and I was the fall/ We might never have gotten together at all,” for example, comes with two solid pages of buds and flowers and springlike sprigs (left-hand page) and brightly colored leaves of many shapes (right-hand page).  There are lots of these little items pictured.  At other times, Clayton takes just a few words – notably “I love you” – and has them fill all or most of a two-page spread. He makes readers turn some pages sideways to accommodate very tall illustrations.  He makes words out of balls of yarn, out of dripping paint, out of barely recognizable stuff that appears to be a mixture of plumbing and ductwork.  He creates characters that are little more than blobs with arms and legs (and the barest sketches of faces), and uses them to illustrate verses such as, “You make me feel younger/ You make me feel brave/ You make me feel something/ These words can’t contain” (no, his rhymes are not perfect, by any means).  And through it all, he manages to come up with some really amusing juxtapositions, imagining a robot hugging a dinosaur, a smiling ghost embracing a cloud, and so forth.  It is all in the name of love, of opposites attracting, of affirming one’s feelings to one’s beloved and to the world.  And it is all silly and cute and really kind of delightful.

      Fancy Nancy is delightful, too – she is one of the most original and ebullient characters in children’s books today – but the Nancy Clancy chapter books, intended for ages 6-10 and featuring Nancy when she is a bit older, are not quite as charming. The second of them, Secret Admirer, is a fairly straightforward matchmaking story in which Nancy and her best friend, Bree, decide to get two teenagers whom they really like to fall in love. Andy, Nancy’s guitar teacher, and Annie, her favorite babysitter, have both just gone through breakups, so Nancy decides that she will get the two of them together and sparks will fly.  This is an old plot, and Nancy’s plans go predictably awry. The book’s title comes from Nancy’s discovery of a card saying “From Your Secret Admirer” while she is shopping with her father – who explains the concept to her.  Nancy thinks this is just the thing to get Andy and Annie together, so she and Bree plot ways to make Annie think she has a secret admirer – and that the admirer is Andy.  But nothing works out as the girls think it should. Andy shows up unexpectedly when they are leaving a note “from him” for Annie. Nancy and Bree get a ride home that they don’t want, because they have made a love-related plan that requires them to ride their bikes home from school.  And so on, until (of course) Andy and Annie do meet and hit it off after all.  The plot’s predictability makes Jane O’Connor’s book less sparkly than her Fancy Nancy stories, and although Robin Preiss Glasser still has a knack for showing the characters skillfully and amusingly, she has less that is offbeat to work with here – and her illustrations are therefore more mundane. Nancy Clancy and Fancy Nancy may be the same character, but the older girl isn’t nearly as much fun as her younger self.

      Splat the Cat is fun for any age, but exactly who created Splat the Cat: Funny Valentine is a bit of a mystery. The book’s cover proclaims that it is “based on the creation of Rob Scotton,” who is both writer and illustrator of the Splat the Cat series. But no writer is credited anywhere for this book, and the illustrations are attributed to Joe Merkel (with the cover by Rick Farley).  The book is amusing, no matter who put it together (Farley also gets a “book design” credit). It is a lift-the-flap book in which teacher Mrs. Wimpydimple asks the class to bring in something special for Valentine’s Day, so Splat and his friends Kitten and Spike get together in Splat’s clubhouse to assemble a secret project. Seymour the mouse gets involved, too, and eventually – at the very end of class on Valentine’s Day – Splat reveals what he and his friends have made: a valentine for Mrs. Wimpydimple herself.  The story is a super-simple one, its main attraction being the flaps on nearly every single page – flaps that open (bottom to top, top to bottom or from the side) to reveal parts of what Splat and his friends are doing and to advance the story neatly.  A purely seasonal book, Splat the Cat: Funny Valentine may not exactly be lovable, but it is certainly likable enough, and young readers who enjoy lift-the-flaps stories will get a kick out of this one.

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