January 14, 2016
Ella and Penguin Stick Together. By Megan Maynor. Illustrated by Rosalind Bonnet. Harper. $17.99.
Way to Glow! Amazing Creatures That Light Up in the Dark. By Lisa Regan. Scholastic. $12.99.
Whether imaginary or real, glow-in-the-dark effects can be fun and fascinating for kids and adults alike. But the thing to remember in Ella and Penguin Stick Together is that we are talking about glowing in the dark. Ella brings a batch of glow-in-the-dark stickers to her friend, Penguin – just how and why the improbable duo became friends is never explained – and Penguin is super-excited at the star, moon, comet and planet shapes, until he realizes that the stickers glow only in the dark. And Penguin is afraid of the dark. So, it turns out, is Ella. What to do? The friends’ attempts to see the stickers glow while avoiding darkness are actually quite reasonable ones that real-life young children might try: they are determined to find a place that is sort of dark and look at the stickers there. Unfortunately, Ella and Penguin find out just what real kids would learn if they took the same approach: glow-in-the-dark items really do need to be where it is dark for the glow to be visible. Standing behind a shower curtain does not work; neither does overturning a laundry basket and hiding under it; nor does lying on the floor under opened umbrellas. No, the friends will have to go into a dark, dark closet to see the stickers glow, and that is scary – with Penguin especially worried that there might be narwhals in there. Eventually the two get up the courage to enter the closet – and are promptly frightened out of it when a scary something brushes them. But it turns out to be nothing but a scarf. So at last, tightly holding hands, the friends do go into the closet and shut the door – and sure enough, the stickers glow wonderfully and suggest all sorts of new games to the happy girl-and-penguin pair. Megan Maynor offers a simple, gently told story with warm and cuddly Rosalind Bonnet illustrations: Ella and Penguin are not only the same size but also almost the same shape, and their expressions mirror each other. The situation is one to which kids ages 4-8 – the book’s intended audience – will readily relate (well, except for having a penguin as a buddy); and the happy resolution may even help some real-world children face their own fears of the dark and understand that, with a little help, they can overcome them.
Everything that glows in the dark is from the real world in Way to Glow! But children are even less likely to encounter most of the creatures shown here than they are to find a penguin in their bedroom. To get the full effect of this book, kids will need to look at it in, yes, the dark, so if they find that scary, they may want to absorb the lesson of Ella and Penguin Stick Together before reading Way to Glow! Many of this book’s pages have a star surrounding their page numbers, and those starred pages are designed to glow in the dark, showing how the animals pictured on them really do glow in nature. For a comparatively short book – 52 pages – this one is unusually information-packed. Excellent photos of bioluminescent creatures are accompanied by short descriptions of what they are, where they live, and how they use their light-up ability to catch food, escape becoming food, or both; and the text includes scientific words, highlighted in yellow, that are explained in a useful glossary at the book’s end. Most of the creatures shown here live in the sea, and a great many of those live in the ocean depths, where the sun’s light never penetrates. The result is genuinely bizarre-looking animals: the hatchetfish, shown many times actual size, which got its name because it is so thin when seen from the front, and which has eyes that point upward; the dragonfish, which fishes for other fish using a blue light attached to a dangling barbell under its chin, and which has such long teeth that it cannot close its mouth around them; the anglerfish, another lure-using deep-sea dweller, whose mouth and body stretch so much that it can swallow prey twice its own size; and many more. Kids will likely have heard of some creatures here, such as jellyfish; and they may actually encounter a few glow producers, such as the firefly and click beetle. But even children who never see an eye-flash squid or lantern fish outside the pages of this book will find them intriguing to discover and learn about here, and will find the glowing pages engrossing – once they accept the need to be in darkness to get those pages’ full effect.