January 09, 2014
(+++) BEING HEARTABLE
Kitty Hearts Doggy. By Jeremy Greenberg. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems. By J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian. Pictures by Jeremy Holmes. Schwartz & Wade. $17.99.
The Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings. By Kiki Thorpe. Illustrated by Jana Christy. Random House. $5.99.
The ♥ symbol, originally made famous, or notorious, through the “I ♥ New York” promotional campaign, now turns up just about everywhere, and not just in advertising and promotion. Jeremy Greenberg’s Kitty Hearts Doggy, one of those “Awww, so cute!” gift books, is actually entitled Kitty ♥ Doggy, which could equally well be “translated” as Kitty Loves Doggy as long as the potential cuteness could be deemed equal. (Somehow “Hearts” seems cuter than “Loves.”) In any case, the book is certainly ♥-able, or lovable, or cute enough, because it not only contains the expected adorable cuddliness of cats and dogs (which are really not natural enemies) but also turns the animal adorableness into a sort of road map for human dating. Actually, that part is a little confusing, but it is certainly meant to heighten the overall cuteness factor somehow. Each cat-and-dog photo comes with typical relationship notes: “Been together,” “Relationship secret” and “quotations” from the animals. For example, Callie and Basil have been together “since the dog realized that cats are warmer than pillows (about 5 years).” The time frame is probably accurate – why wouldn’t it be? – but is that a real explanation of the closeness? How about this one, for Cooper and Jax? They have been together “since the human switched us to weight-control kibble, and we had to find new sources of comfort (about 3 years).” Or this, for Bailey and Sam? “Since the dog had her cone removed and remembered what it was like to love again (about 7 years).” Believe what you will of these – and also of the “relationship secrets,” such as “knowing who really barfed cat food, and not telling,” “complementary mood disorders,” and “find a shampoo that drives the kitties crazy.” The “comments” by the cats and dogs, intended to be amusing in a humans-might-say-something-like-that way, are the weakest part of the book: “What I love about my cat is that he knows how to be loved.” “When you’re in a codependent relationship with a dog, you have to accept that there’s no amount of comforting that will ever make up for lost balls.” “I just can’t believe I waited this long to be happy.” Whether or not you ♥ this book will depend on how you react to its unusual combination of adorable photos with somewhat-less-than-adorable “relationship writing.” Of course, it’s a small-size “gift book,” so if you decide it isn’t quite right for you, you can always pass it along.
The ubiquitousness of the ♥ starts well before gift-book-giving time. It is, for example, already there in Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems, for ages 4-8, which includes a poem called “The Love Car” that goes as follows: “I ♥ the shape./ I ♥ the hue./ I ♥ to drive my love car too./ I ♥ the shine./ I ♥ the wheels./ I ♥ the way my love car feels.” And so on. What the book does is to take this dose of poetry by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, then add a whole set of Monty Python-inspired illustrations by Jeremy Holmes: both the front and the back of this car are shaped like hearts, as are the headlights, taillights, seats and outside mirror, and the license plate is “I LUV.” The result is something so over-the-top that the only way to top it would be to turn the page. Doing that might land you on a poem about “Hot Dog Car”: “My hot dog car is lots of fun/ And comes with relish on a bun./ It runs on tons of sauerkraut/ Or mustard when you’ve just run out.” Or “Bathtub Car,” which comes “With hot-water heating/ And porcelain seating.” Or perhaps “High-Heel Car”: “There was an old woman/ Who lived in high heels./ She loved one so much/ That she gave it three wheels.” The authors point out that “someday our fantastic cars/ Might look like cool dark chocolate bars,” and that would scarcely be the strangest appearance in a book whose autos are powered by balloons, shaped like fish, overgrown with grass, travel only backwards, or are “eel-ectric.” This whole book is a flight of somewhat overdone fancy, the weirdness of its illustrations even surpassing that of its poetry, which is really saying something. Parents may or may not ♥ the unmitigated silliness here, but the authors and illustrator do seem to have figured out how to think like kids in their target age range.
The age range for Disney’s The Never Girls series is slightly older, 6-9, and this is a sequence aimed squarely at female readers. It is about four not-particularly-well-differentiated girls: fairy-loving Gabby, beauty-loving Mia, animal-loving Lainey, and adventure-loving Kate. The four all get what they ♥ through a series of stories in which they encounter and interact with fairies by going through a broken slat in a fence – a mundane-looking break that is actually a portal between the human-being town of Pixie Hollow and the fairy world of Never Land (yes, that Never Land, the world of Peter Pan as reimagined by Disney). Simply written and focusing on dialogue rather than description or anything else that might slow the pace, the books are easy to read and straightforwardly illustrated, the problems within them being minor and more amusing than genuinely troubling. In the fifth book in the series, Wedding Wings, Gabby is supposed to be the flower girl at a wedding, and the fairies find that so intriguing that one of them stows away in Gabby’s flower basket – with predictably amusing results that never quite get serious enough to reveal the existence of fairies to any adults. The most enjoyable part of the misadventure has the fairy Bess become accidentally covered in chocolate and then finding it hard to run because her coating is hardening. Of course, that problem doesn’t last long – nothing does in these books – and even Gabby’s comment that “she had spoiled Julia’s perfect wedding” is soon turned around to “the ceremony went by in a joyful blur.” Girls who ♥ simple chapter books lightly sprinkled with magic will enjoy each entry in The Never Girls, including the latest one. There is nothing at all complex or challenging in the plot or writing, but the mild amusement and pleasant pacing of Wedding Wings will give fans of this sequence plenty to ♥.