March 13, 2014
(++++) FAMILIAR CHARACTERS’ SEASONAL STORIES
Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure. By Kimberly and James Dean. Harper. $9.99.
Pinkalicious: Eggstraordinary Easter. By Victoria Kann. HarperFestival. $4.99.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Alvin’s Easter Break. By Jodi Huelin. Illustrations by Walter Carzon and Artful Doodlers. HarperFestival. $3.99.
The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Parade. By Mike Berenstain. HarperFestival. $3.99.
Kids ages 4-8 who are fans of specific characters can enjoy them not only in “anytime” books but also in seasonal works of all sorts – including, this spring, ones in which they help or are helped by the Easter Bunny. Pete the Cat’s adventure starts when he finds a note asking him to help by finding, painting and hiding eggs – and the note comes with a pair of bunny ears to wear while doing all that. The illustration of Pete hopping like a bunny while wearing the big white ears is very funny indeed – as is the later one in which he looks even more like a rabbit after making himself a bunny nose and tail from cotton balls. The ridiculousness of Pete’s appearance helps make the straightforward story more fun: Pete predictably gets eggs from the chickens and paint and brushes from the toolshed, then colors the eggs and takes them around the neighborhood for his friends to find – earning a thank-you from the Easter Bunny, who shows up just as Pete is finished helping. The book’s activities are as enjoyable as the story itself: a full-color poster is included, along with a dozen Easter cards to be cut out and sent (including several showing Pete with those bunny ears), plus a page of stickers. Kids who enjoy Kimberly and James Dean’s books about Pete will find that this one fits into the series very nicely.
Victoria Kann’s series of Pinkalicious tales gets an amusing, “Pinktastic”-stickers-included Easter entry as well in Pinkalicious: Eggstraordinary Easter. Here Pinkalicious gets clues from Edgar the Easter Bunny rather than being asked to help. She and Edgar are pals, so on Easter, he leaves her a special basket with a note that starts Pinkalicious and her family on a scavenger hunt – which takes them to a treehouse, school and playground before Pinkalicious is stumped by a clue saying to go to “the place Pinkalicious loves most.” Eventually Pinkalicious figures out what the clue means, and all ends happily as she receives “the most eggstravagant Easter basket,” even though she is too “eggshausted” to eat the treats immediately. Kann’s usual pleasant inclusion of Pinkalicious’ brother and parents in the adventure, during which her mom digs in a sandbox and her dad goes on a playground swing, keeps the family focus of the book front-and-center and makes it as much a togetherness tale as an Easter story.
Two other character-driven seasonal books are not quite at this level and get (+++) ratings, but will still be enjoyable for fans of their particular fantasy worlds. Alvin’s Easter Break features the singing chipmunks – Simon, Theodore and Alvin – taking a beach vacation with their human father, Dave, but being repeatedly interrupted by three identical boys who are big singing-chipmunk fans and simply won’t leave the trio alone. The “international rock stars” try to escape the boys “and have some real fun,” but it turns out that everyone is on the same plane, and everyone is going to the same hotel, and the “miniature groupies” are tremendously intrusive and at times genuinely disruptive. But instead of supporting the chipmunks’ desire for a little quiet time, instead of perhaps saying something to the triplets’ parents, Dave tells the chipmunks to spend even more time with their fans “in the spirit of holiday fun.” Under orders, that is just what Simon, Theodore and Alvin do – and in the spirit of complete fantasy, they discover that their vacation is better as a result, in fact becoming “the best Easter Alvin could remember.” How parents interpret this story of celebrity, fandom and privacy will have a great deal to do with what young readers get out of it.
Some interpretation will also be helpful for The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Parade, a typically lightly plotted springtime tale in which everybody decides to get dressed up in finery for a walk through town at Easter – except for Brother, who is “happy wearing his plain red shirt and blue pants every day” because when he does, “I always look like me.” That plainspoken common sense is a problem here, since everyone else agrees to dress as fancily as possible – which would be just fine, except that it turns out the family only has old fancy clothing that does not fit properly or is falling apart. Instead of making do with what they have or repairing the old clothes, the Bear family proceeds to go to a department store and buy everything new, simply for the purpose of wearing the dress-up duds one single time and showing themselves off to the town. And this being a Berenstain Bears book, the result is not that they learn a lesson about conspicuous consumption and the waste of money on frippery – oh no! Instead, they receive “the prize for best-dressed family,” and even Brother is converted to the buy-stuff-and-look-good philosophy. Although Mike Berenstain carries on the tradition of Stan and Jan Berenstain in making the Bear family pleasant and its concerns and worries modest, his book has a strangely unsettling subtext in its disdain for simplicity and advocacy of spending substantial sums of money to keep up with the Joneses (or the other bears) and to show off. Easy tweaks to the story would have sent a very different message: for example, Brother might have bought his new clothes but then given them away to someone who was needy, ending up feeling good about himself – and perhaps winning a special award, not for his clothing but for his heart. This is not the Berenstain way, though, and families will have to decide for themselves how comfortable they are with the lessons that The Berenstain Bears’ Easter Parade teaches.