November 05, 2015
(++++) ALMOST UN-BEAR-ABLY CUTE
Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! By Aaron Blecha. Harper. $17.99.
Who Needs a Bath? By Jeff Mack. Harper. $17.99.
Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective. By Ashley Crowley. Harper. $17.99.
Real-world bears have none of the endearing characteristics of the ones that appear so often in books for ages 4-8, but the whole idea of a huge fuzzy animal seems especially appealing for this age group, resulting in all sorts of bear-ly there adventures and amusements. Hibernation (or attempted hibernation) is always a good touchstone for a work that can be used as a bedtime book – such as Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! The problem here is a simple one: big ol’ grouchy Grizzle Grump needs a place to hibernate, but every time he thinks he has found one, it is TOO DARNED NOISY! Grizzle Grump has his very own pre-sleep routine: he “SCRATCHES and he SNIFFS, then he TEETERS and he TOTTERS. Next he WIGGLES and he WOBBLES, he FLIPS and FLOPS!” And then he falls asleep – or tries to. Aaron Blecha’s pictures of Grizzle Grump’s bedtime antics, varied slightly each time the bear thinks he has found just the right spot for a long snooze, are hilarious, and Grizzle Grump’s devotion to his pillow and blanket are endearing. Unfortunately for the grouchy bear, but fortunately for the story, an apparently perfect spot in the trees proves attractive to woodpeckers, a peaceful-looking stream bank is just the spot for noisy dam-building beavers, and even a “dark, gloomy swamp” turns out to be unsatisfactory for sleeping: frogs everywhere loudly proclaim “Eeerp MEERP”! Eventually Grizzle Grump makes his way to a mountaintop cave where, “tired out and trembling,” too exhausted even for his usual scratching, sniffing, teetering, tottering and all the rest, he collapses in a heap with “a great big flopping” and slams the cave’s convenient front door shut to keep out all the other animals and their noises. So Grizzle Grump gets to sleep at last – but then his noisemaking, in the form of enormous snores, is so loud that it drives all the other animals away. And that seems to be just fine for the start of a long winter’s nap.
Equally put-upon is the bear in Jeff Mack’s Who Needs a Bath? But the problem here is very different: Bear wants to give Skunk a surprise birthday party, but none of the other animals will come unless Skunk stops being so, well, stinky. “Even Bear had to admit it: SKUNK STUNK.” So Bear sets himself the task of inducing Skunk to take a bath – which Skunk absolutely, positively, totally refuses to do. Bear comes up with plan after plan: have Skunk slide down a slide into the water, have him jump into the pond from a swing, try a trampoline. But each time, Skunk evades the water and tells ever-cheerful Bear that “that bath does not look like fun!” Eventually, Bear says Skunk has to take a bath or no one will come to his party! Oops – so much for Bear’s plan to make it a surprise! But the other animals overhear Bear’s slip of the tongue, and they decide it must be a pool party, since Bear is in the pond after his latest misadventure with Skunk. So everyone comes to join Bear, and Skunk, feeling left out, soon finds himself in the water as well – not on purpose, really (he slips on soap and ends up using the slide, swing and trampoline), but very enjoyably. And a good time is had by all – making it possible for parents to use this as a bath-time bear book, then move on for a bedtime story to Goodnight, Grizzle Grump!
There is neither bath-time nor bedtime connection to Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective, but that’s all right, since pandas are not really bears, even if they look a bit like them and kids and parents alike sometimes call them “panda bears.” In any case, Ashley Crowley’s clever book is purely for amusement, even though Crowley does offer “fun facts about fingerprints” at the end. The real fun here is in the story – and specifically the illustrations. Page after page has fingerprints on it! The haystacks at Farmer Barnes’ farm have them, and so do the clouds above a playground where kids tell Officer Panda they think they saw a shadow in the forest. Officer Panda goes there to investigate, finding a deer with a large fingerprint on its side. It is getting late, and the moon comes out – with a fingerprint on it. The mystery deepens as Officer Panda rides his bike along, looking for clues. Soon he sees that some of the trees have fingerprints instead of branches, and there are even fingerprints at his own home when he gets back to it! What could be going on? Well, it turns out there is nothing sinister happening: the mystery has an amusing solution that kids in the target age range will enjoy, and Officer Panda is able to say “another case solved!” by bedtime. The fingerprint facts at the book’s end give kids the chance to look at their own fingerprints and figure out what sorts of patterns they have – an intriguing little adventure of its own that goes well with a story whose ins and outs are not at all hard to bear.