March 12, 2015


Gossie: A Gosling on the Go! By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $8.99.

Peedie: A Forgetful Little Gosling. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $8.99.

BooBoo: A Small Gosling with a Big Appetite. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $8.99.

Gossie & Gertie: Best Friends, Always Together. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $8.99.

Gus Explores His World. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $9.99.

Gemma & Gus: Big Sister, Little Brother. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $9.99.

     Olivier Dunrea’s bright, amusing little tales of goslings have delighted young children and their parents for well over a decade now, and it is a pleasure to rediscover them – or bring them to a whole new generation of kids – through brand-new, oversize, padded board books that are easy for small hands to hold and sturdy enough to withstand all sorts of unintentional mistreatment. Dunrea’s “Gossie & Friends” series includes such nicely distinguished characters as Gertie, Ollie, Gideon, Jasper & Joop, Gus, and Gemma – but it all began in 2002 with Gossie herself. She is “a small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots” and whose slightly mussed-up head and tail feathers make her extra-endearing. She is seen wearing her much-loved boots when encountering a hummingbird, when eating from a bowl on whose side a beetle is perched, when riding a happily bounding pig, and in other places as well -- and especially when walking. Dunrea turns simple sentences such as “she walks backward” and “she walks forward” into joyous proclamations by giving Gossie expressiveness and showing her high-stepping into encounters with her environment, in the form of grass and a small flying insect. The scenes of red-booted Gossie walking in rain (with eyes closed) and snow (wearing an expression of wonder, or perhaps bewilderment) build to the “problem” of the book, in which Gossie one day cannot find her boots. Then Dunrea takes her through a search that involves, among other things, seeing her rear end sticking out from under her nest and watching her look down from a rock toward a mole that has just burrowed to the surface. Eventually Gossie locates her boots and, at the same time, finds Gertie, and the book ends with the two friends sharing not only the boots but also the fun of exploring in them. Although the story is certainly simple enough for a board book, it is longer and has more character than do many board-book tales – quite enough to charm pre-readers and young readers into seeking out other gosling books by Dunrea.

     The ways in which Dunrea makes the books and their characters different, while also keeping them similar enough to make children comfortable, are clear in the new board-book versions of the stories of Peedie and BooBoo, both originally published in 2004. Peedie looks a lot like Gossie, except without the ruffled tail feathers – and with a bright red cap instead of bright red boots. Like Gossie, Peedie interacts with insects, pigs and other characters – the spider that lands on his beak is especially amusing. Kids who have read about Gossie and now read that Peedie “never forgets to wear his lucky red baseball cap,” even though he often forgets other things, will not be surprised when Dunrea shows the many ways Peedie wears the cap and the many places he visits while doing so. Nor will they be surprised that Peedie does indeed forget where he left the cap one day, after putting it “in a secret place.” So Peedie – like Gossie – embarks on a search, in the pond (with only his rear end showing), through the pile of apples (one of which is on his head), and so on. Despondent, Peedie goes to do his chore of turning the egg (an assignment that he often forgets), and lo and behold, the egg is wearing the cap – that is where Peedie put it! The Peedie and Gossie books make a delightful pair, and each is fun on its own as well.

     The BooBoo story is slightly different, yet recognizably part of the same series. BooBoo is blue, not yellow. And her primary characteristic is not what she wears but her enjoyment of food. In one of many wonderful illustrations, she is lying on a small pile of hay, beneath a bunch of grapes, waiting for one to fall into her mouth – which it is in the process of doing. Her watchword is “good food,” a phrase she says again and again. BooBoo gets food from the hens, from the goat, even from the mouse, sampling here and nibbling there, even trying the weeds that grow in the pond. But as in the other Dunrea books, the gosling’s main characteristic leads to a problem: BooBoo swallows a bubble that is floating over the pond and suddenly finds herself burping. The burps push her forward and backward – Dunrea must have had great fun creating those illustrations! – and BooBoo cannot stop herself from burping until a helpful little turtle urges her to drink water. So she does, and then burps only “a teeny tiny bubble,” and then concludes that the strange burp-inducing bubbles were, like everything else she eats, “good food.” This is a wonderfully apt ending to yet another silly and endearing book in which Dunrea lavishes care and attention on his pictures of the goslings and their adventures while keeping the backgrounds completely white, so the characters – main and subsidiary alike – stand out clearly and delightfully at all times. The new padded-board-book versions of these stories are every bit as much fun as the original books were – and at this point, Dunrea’s early gosling tales deserve to be called modern classics.

     The “classics” label applies not only to Dunrea’s stories of individual goslings but also to ones about gosling friends exploring and playing together. Gossie & Gertie, originally published in 2002, is about one such pair. Gossie, of course, wears his bright red boots all the time, while Gertie wears bright blue ones and is a slightly smaller gosling. Everything in this book is about what they do together: splash in the rain, play in the daisies, dive in the pond, and so forth. “Gossie and Gertie are best friends,” writes Dunrea, and this usually means that Gossie leads and Gertie follows – but not when Gossie decides to jump into a mud puddle. Gertie does not wish to follow that, and afterwards, she stops following Gossie altogether: he says to follow him, but she follows a frog; he again says to follow him, but she follows a butterfly; again and again, no matter how loudly Gossie insists that Gertie follow him, she follows something else. So then Gossie follows Gertie for a change – right to their food bowl for dinner, with the final page showing both of them with their heads all the way inside the bowl, eating together, best friends again (or still). This is the sort of gentle amusement that initially enchanted readers of Dunrea’s gosling tales, and that still does so in the stories’ new padded-board-book format.

     Dunrea continues to produce new gosling stories as well. Even as the decade-plus original stories appear in a new format, Dunrea is offering brand-new stories in small-book (but not board-book) form. Gus Explores His World features a gosling who likes to discover new things – on his own. He is a do-it-yourself explorer, and in fact he is introduced when Dunrea describes him as “a small yellow gosling who likes to be by himself.” Like Peedie, Gus wears a hat – it looks like a small inverted cooking pot. Above all, Gus is an observer, watching a spider spin its web, watching mice in the barn, watching everything that goes on in the pond – and, it just so happens, watching a turtle walk out of the pond and start scraping in the dirt nearby. After the turtle returns to the water, curious Gus gently explores the area where she has been digging, and discovers three small eggs. Gus knows about eggs – he carefully sits on them and soon finds that egg-sitting is no small task. Mice scurry past, rain drops on him, night falls as a snail walks by, morning comes as a bird sits atop his hat – and all the while, Gus faithfully sits upon the eggs, keeping them warm and watching them carefully. And then, all of a sudden, the eggs move, and a surprised Gus hops off them – watching them split open and seeing three little green heads peeking out. Gus and the baby turtles stare at each other – and suddenly Gus, who always likes to be by himself, becomes Gus “who likes to be by himself. Most of the time.” The final heartwarming page shows the three turtles riding along on Gus, two on his back and one on his hat. And never mind that in the real world, turtle eggs hatch without being sat on, and in fact Gus would have needed to wait for two to three months before they would have hatched – Dunrea is, after all, not writing true-to-life nature books!

     Gus interacts with his big sister in Gemma & Gus, in which Gemma is described as “a small yellow gosling” and Gus as “a smaller yellow gosling.” Gemma, who wears a pith helmet and carries binoculars, is also, not surprisingly with those accessories, an explorer. And when the two goslings are together, she takes the lead – into the cattails, onto a flowerpot, even onto the back of Molly, the dog. But when Gemma decides she does not want Gus following her all the time, Gus takes the lead – and now Gemma follows him as he peeks under the hen and jumps into the pond. Exasperated, Gemma asks Gus what he is doing, and he replies, in all capital letters, “EXPLORING!” And so there is nothing left for the two to do but explore together, at the same time – which they are doing on the final page, both carefully looking at a bat that is hanging upside down. An amusing approach to sibling rivalry and sibling cooperation and at the same time a perfectly fitting entry into this ongoing sequence about goslings, Gemma & Gus shows, as does Gus Explores His World, that Dunrea’s creativity has certainly not flagged in the decade-plus since he started this series – and is, indeed, continuing to move him in new, ever-expanding directions that nevertheless preserve the series’ approach both in writing and in pictures.

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