October 09, 2014
(++++) ANIMALS ANTICS AGAIN
The Great Big Dinosaur Treasury: Tales of Adventure and Discovery. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $18.99.
Circle, Square, Moose. By Kelly Bingham. Pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.
Dino delights of many sorts are collected in a winning anthology of eight reissues called The Great Big Dinosaur Treasury. Here are Patrick’s Dinosaurs (1983) by Carol Carrick, with illustrations by Donald Carrick; Curious George’s Dinosaur Discovery (2006) by Catherine Hapka, with illustrations “in the style of H.A. Rey” by Anna Grossnickle Hines; If the Dinosaurs Came Back (1978) by Bernard Most; Tadpole Rex (2008) by Kurt Cyrus; Ridin’ Dinos with Buck Bronco (2007) by George McClements; Gus, the Dinosaur Bus (2012) by Julia Liu, with illustrations by Bei Linn; Dinosailors (2003) by Deb Lund, with illustrations by Howard Fine; and Good Night, Dinosaurs (1996) by Judy Sierra, with illustrations by Victoria Chess. Topics, approaches and styles of illustration vary widely, with the book as a whole giving free rein to all sorts of dino-based imaginings, from Most’s wholly amusing and warmhearted visions of colorful and helpful dinosaurs in an otherwise black-and-white world, to the wonderfully imaginative Lund/Fine story, in which highly realistic-looking dinos have an utterly unrealistic nautical adventure. Cyrus’ fact-based story about amphibians in the dinosaur era is a highlight here, as is the utter absurdity McClements brings to a story that nevertheless incorporates some facts about dinosaur names, sizes and more. From time to time, a story shows its age – Carrick’s, for example, refers to a brontosaurus, a now-abandoned name for an apatosaurus. Generally, though, these stories wear very well, and even parents already familiar with some of the newer tales may not know those of decades past. The very reasonable price of this generously sized book (which also includes a link to free dinosaur-themed downloads suitable for parties) provides a great excuse for picking it up and having all the tales, new and old, in one volume – a chance for dino-loving kids to experience the imagination of many writers and artists who, like children themselves, continue to be captivated not so much by what dinosaurs actually were as by their potential as drivers of amusement, enjoyment and adventure 65 million years after their disappearance.
Speaking of the offbeat and, indeed, the decidedly oddball, the second Kelly Bingham/Paul O. Zelinsky book featuring mischief-making, over-enthusiastic Moose and would-be enforcer of order and neatness Zebra may not deal with prehistoric creatures, but it certainly presents some strange ones. Circle, Square, Moose is nominally a book about shapes, just as its predecessor, Z Is for Moose, was nominally an alphabet book. But “nominally” is the key word here: Moose is a free-spirited intruder into the orderly proceedings, insisting through sheer exuberance on distracting readers from what the books are supposed to be about and turning them instead into focuses on his own hijinks. The frustrated narrator of Circle, Square, Moose simply wants to tell kids about shapes in everyday life, such as a circular button and square sandwich, but Moose, who has already peeked inquiringly into the book several times, makes life difficult for the strait-laced narrative voice by taking a big bite out of the sandwich – turning it into a triangle. Moose tries, in his own intrusive way, to help with the “shapes” theme, showing a cat’s triangular ears, but the narrator fusses, “Cute, but this is not an animal book. It’s a shape book. You both need to leave.” No such luck! True, Moose walks away dejectedly, but he soon returns within a rectangular window to paint over the words “tall window” with the word “moose” and disobey repeated orders to stop “ruining the book” and get out. This is obviously a job for Zebra, who looks like a referee, complete with cap and appropriately striped jacket worn over his own stripes. Zebra tries to cajole Moose into leaving, but the wayward antlered one refuses, soon leading Zebra on a wild chase through multiple pages, thoroughly messing up squares and curves and eventually getting Zebra stuck in a very long, very curvy ribbon. The oblivious narrator continues explaining shapes, turning to a discussion of circles as poor Zebra, still stuck, eventually falls down a hole that Moose makes with, yes, a solid black circle. The fed-up narrator eventually says “I’m done” and tells Moose and Zebra to finish the book themselves – which they do, with a nice touch of friendship and a look at the shape of a star. Will kids really learn about shapes from this book, or will they be too distracted by the wild comedy? Well, there are plenty of other, more-staid shapes books, and this one could always be a supplement to one in which the narrative voice proceeds with fewer impediments. Certainly Moose makes a great guide to enjoyment, whether or not he is an ideal instructor in shapes or, for that matter, the alphabet. He’s quite a character, and it is very unlikely that we have seen the last of him.