July 03, 2013


Little Owl’s Orange Scarf. By Tatyana Feeney. Knopf. $16.99.

Cute & Cuter. By Michael Townsend. Knopf. $15.99.

     Kids up to age three will find a healthy helping of adorableness in store in Little Owl’s Orange Scarf, Tatyana Feeney’s simple and heartwarming (and neck warming) story of a super-cute little owl with a problem: his new scarf is itchy, much too long, and far too orange. He simply has to get rid of it, and comes up with a series of adorable ways to try to do so, such as packaging it for Grandpa or shipping it to Peru. But nothing works – his Mommy always finds the scarf and brings it back, and insists that he wear it so he can stay warm. But then, Little Owl goes to the zoo with his class one day and comes home filled with stories about elephants, lions and other animals – but without his scarf. And this time, when Mommy calls the zoo, she learns that no one has found it, so they will simply have to make another. But this time, Mommy takes Little Owl along to the yarn store, where they buy soft blue non-itchy yarn rather than the orange stuff. And Mommy knits a scarf that is warm and comfy and just the right size, wonderful for Little Owl to wear and enjoy – especially when, at the end, he returns to the zoo and readers find out what he did with the long, itchy orange scarf. This is a sweet story as well as a cute one, and big-eyed Little Owl – with his rectangular body topped with two expressive tufts – is a winner from the first page to the last.

     Super-cute Sir Yips-a-lot is not a winner from start to finish, though. The cute puppy that Janie Jane gets for her birthday is indeed cute, cute, cute.  But he is not the only super-cute pet out there, and when Janie Jane’s next birthday arrives, the formerly inseparable pair is joined by Lady Meow-meow, who has even bigger and rounder eyes than Sir Yips-a-lot’s and who is so utterly, totally, amazingly, completely cuter than cute that soon she and Janie Jane are inseparable, even when Sir Yips-a-lot tries numerous ways to “get Janie Jane’s attention and show her he was much cuter than the new kitty.” Alas, not even his howling and dancing show makes an impression on Janie Jane, and Sir Yips-a-lot realizes that there is only one thing to be done – so out the mail slot goes Lady Meow-meow, who is “cuter than ten pink hamsters dancing in a field of flowers while eating cupcakes,” and now all the attention will revert to Sir Yips-a-lot!  Well, no. Janie Jane is heartbroken – loudly so – and in short order, Sir Yips-a-lot realizes that he has to find and rescue Lady Meow-meow and restore her, and the super-cute happiness she brings, to Janie Jane. And then he has to be the one to leave, now that he is no longer cute enough. But of course Michael Townsend, whose book is for ages 5-8, cannot leave things there – oh no! The dejected Sir Yips-a-lot is quickly pursued by Lady Meow-meow, who jumps on him and licks him and creates “the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” as Janie Jane says when she catches up to the two of them. So of course everything ends happily – or would, if Janie Jane’s parents didn’t have some sort of weird obsession with a) cuteness and b) animals. What they come up with for Janie Jane’s next birthday, it is clear at the end, is going to pose a major challenge to both Sir Yips-a-lot and Lady Meow-meow. One thing that makes Townsend’s book so much fun is that the overdone character drawings are not particularly cute, although some of the things that the characters do are certainly cute in a highly conventional way. A panel filled with hearts and the much-repeated word “lick” would simply present a surfeit of adorableness if the characters looked as utterly yummy as what they are doing. As is, the book is a gentle send-up of all things cute even as it endorses cuteness in all its shapes and forms (Janie Jane’s leap into a pool with a cute and happy Sir Yips-a-lot and a clearly nonplused and very cutely wide-eyed Lady Meow-meow is a highlight). The cuteness never ends here – and anyone wondering about those adorable cupcake-eating hamsters can have a look at them just outside the story, on the front and back inside covers.

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