March 13, 2014


Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed. By Eileen Christelow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

Bedtime for Chickies. By Janee Trasler. HarperFestival. $8.99.

Pottytime for Chickies. By Janee Trasler. HarperFestival. $8.99.

Little White Rabbit. By Kevin Hankes. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $7.99.

Princess Baby, Night-Night. By Karen Katz. Schwartz & Wade. $6.99.

Dancing Dreams. By Kate Ohrt. Illustrated by Kristi Valiant. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

     Bedtime board books are so much fun that it is quite understandable if children up to age four want more and more of them – or the same one multiple times. Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys are up to their usual hijinks in the new board-book version of 2011’s Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed, more-or-less-obediently getting ready for bed but then becoming so interested in bedtime stories that they simply can’t go to sleep until they read just one more book. Or several. Tired Mama leaves and closes the monkeys’ bedroom door, but the little ones just cannot resist a bit more story time – and considerable acting-out. They read about a little lost puppy and break into sobs and tears, littering the bed with used tissues as they weep and wail in the best drama-queen style that Christelow can show. Then the puppy in the story is found and all ends happily, and the Five Little Monkeys express their joy with their usual ebullience: “Those monkeys are LOUD! (You should cover your ears!)” Predictably, Mama comes in, repeats that there is to be “no more reading in bed!” – and exits, giving the little monkeys the chance to do it all over again, this time with a scary book about ghosts that has them making eerie and, of course, LOUD ghost sounds. Mama returns, the little monkeys are duly chastised, and as soon as she is gone, they pull out a joke book and indulge in – what else? – LOUD hilarity. This time Mama has had enough, and she takes all the books out as she gets ready for bed. What’s the twist? She can’t resist reading them herself, and the Five Little Monkeys have to remind her that it’s time for bed, not more books. Young children will have a great time with the amusing story line and the climactic role reversal, but don’t be surprised if they want this book read repeatedly at bedtime!

     The three chicks in Bedtime for Chickies have trouble nodding off, too, but for different reasons – ones that make life difficult for the sheep, pig and cow who take care of them. “We can’t sleep,” the chickies repeatedly say. “We’re thirsty.” “We need a story.” And so on. Janee Trasler makes the chicks so adorable that the increasing exhaustion of the sheep, pig and cow comes across as funny, not troubling in the least. And the repeated, easy-to-follow poetic refrain helps move the story along: “It’s bedtime for chickies. It’s bedtime for sheep. It’s bedtime for pig and cow. Let’s all go to…” And each time, instead of “sleep,” readers turn the page to “cheep cheep cheep” and something else the chickies want. Eventually they get what they really need, a bedtime hug and cuddle, and the last page shows them soundly sleeping in the arms of the understandably exhausted sheep, pig and cow – a just-right ending.

     One thing the chickies say they need before sleep is to go potty, and that is the focus of Pottytime for Chickies, which is even funnier than Trasler’s bedtime book. One after the other, pig, cow and sheep tell the three chickies to “hop on the potty and get the job done,” only to be told, “We know what the potty’s for.” First it’s for splashing, as the three chickies dive in (one wearing snorkeling gear) and toss water everywhere – after which the ever-patient pig says, while mopping the floor, “Oh no, chickies. Pat. Pat. Pat. Pottytime is NOT for that.” Next, the chickies decide to play games with toilet paper, making a complete mess that always-understanding cow has to clean up. Sheep tries again to get the chickies to go potty, and this time they play acrobatic jumping games. Finally, all three “adult” animals tell the chickies that they really must do “what the potty’s for,” and all three chickies sit together and go “tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,” after which everybody celebrates and the chickies get to “take a bow.” Super-silly but with an underlying serious message, Pottytime for Chickies is fun both to read and to use in real-life potty training.

     The new board-book version of Little White Rabbit, a Kevin Hankes work originally published in 2011, has a subtler real-life use: it is about the wonders and limits of curiosity. Hankes amusingly illustrates the things the little rabbit thinks about as he hops along: he wonders what it would be like to be green, and is shown in that color, surrounded by crickets, a frog and a turtle; he wonders about being tall, and is shown bigger than a fir tree, with birds flying just over his head; he wonders about being unable to move, like a rock, and is shown in four identical poses at different times of day and night and in different weather; he wonders about flying like a butterfly and is shown flapping his ears and wiggling his tail as he soars with colorful butterflies all around him. But then the little rabbit is frightened by a cat, and stops wondering anything – he simply hops “as fast as he could” back home, where he continues to be curious about many things but “didn’t wonder who loved him.” This is a gently uplifting and calming message about being willing to explore, while knowing there is always a safe haven available at home.

     The safest haven of all for a little girl is her bedroom, and that is where all the action takes place in Princess Baby, Night-Night. The board book opens as Karen Katz’s adorable character, wearing her gold crown (which, on the front of the book, is covered in gold glitter, as are Princess Baby’s shoes), protests that she is not tired, even though her unseen parents say she should be getting ready for bed. Page after page, Princess Baby does sort of what her parents want – that is, she does what they say but not what they mean. They ask if she has put her toys where they belong, and she says yes – but while they mean the toys should be put away, Princess Baby puts them in the specific chairs or other places where they belong when she is playing with them. They ask if she has put on her pajamas, and she says yes – but what she is doing is putting pajamas on her stuffed toys. They ask if she has brushed her teeth, and she says she is brushing, too, with the illustration showing what that means: she is brushing her toys’ make-believe teeth. Eventually, Princess Baby says she is “almost” ready for a kiss, and we see her and her toys sitting together in a straight line, looking out the window at the stars. And then her parents come to her room to check on her – and what they find is that Princess Baby has fallen sound asleep on the floor, next to and amid all her little stuffed-toy friends. What can the parents do but what they do do? They pick up their sleeping little princess, gently put her in her bed, and give her a good-night kiss. The result is that Princess Baby, Night-Night is both charming and reassuring, as the best board books so often are.

     The glitter on the front of Dancing Dreams is there not for “royal” purposes but to accentuate the ballerina costume that little Gracie wears – and the real one worn by the prima ballerina she is imagining herself to be. Rather than a board book for giving a young child sweet nighttime dreams, Kate Orht’s is one that celebrates daydreams, with Gracie playing dress-up and thinking of all the kinds of dancers she could become when she grows up. A chorus-line dancer, country dancer, hula dancer, tap dancer, cheerleader, flamenco dancer – Gracie can see herself as any or all of them. Kristi Valiant’s illustrations highlight the fantasies by having each imagined grown-up dancer actually look like an adult version of Gracie, as if the young girl is seeing into her own future – or multiple possible futures, each of them equally but differently danceable. The pleasant contrast between Gracie’s still-awkward real-world dancing costumes and poses and her imagined poised perfection as an adult adds to the enjoyment of this pleasant when-I-grow-up fantasy. And the final pages, showing that Gracie really is the star of a show at her current age and current level of dancing ability, add a lovely “maybe it will really happen” element to the book – and a chance for parents to tell young children that sometimes daydreams really can come true.

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