June 16, 2016


Dirt + Water = Mud. By Katherine Hannigan. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Fly Guy Presents: The White House. By Tedd Arnold. Scholastic. $3.99.

     Amusing adventures add up to a lot of learning when pets and kids get together in books that not only tell stories but also promote “official” school topics in ways that can be a lot more appealing than the ones used in classrooms. The additive imagination of a girl and dog is a good example in Katherine Hannigan’s Dirt + Water = Mud. The book’s inside front and back covers, and the pages facing them, are maps of the area where the girl and dog are spending the day playing. The map key shows just where the giant mud puddle is and also makes it clear that the tree house is an airplane and the flowerpot is a queen’s crown. Kids can read the map before, during or after the book’s adventures. Of course, they do not have to use it, but it does “map to” the book’s events and make it more fun to follow them. The story starts with the girl making that big mud puddle, jumping into it, and splashing about until she is a complete mess – as the dog says “Ah-roo?” (helpfully translated by Hannigan as “are you okay?”). The girl invites the dog into the puddle, the two friends splash about and make a gigantic mess, and thus we have “mud + splash + splatter = very mucky.” Obviously it is time to get clean, so we move on to “hose + high up = shower,” with the girl turning on a garden hose and holding it above their heads to wash the mud off. Then comes the next bit of play, with a sheet from a clothesline, a stick, and the aforementioned flowerpot adding up to “her majesty, the queen (+ knight).” The adventures-in-addition theme is carried through the book, even when things go a bit awry: the excited girl climbs up to her tree house (= airplane), but the dog cannot get up there and is left on the ground to bark and whine and say, in dog language, “I miss you! Please come back to me!” But soon the friends are reunited, and playtime – with minor misunderstandings here and there – continues throughout the day, until the tired-out best friends head for home, the dog already asleep in the girl’s arms, as visions of tomorrow’s possibilities (dinosaur, spaceship and more) are scattered around the final pages. With just two characters, only a few words, and a very simple “play day” story, Hannigan does a wonderful job of showing the ties that bind in friendship and the amusing ways that math and imagination can mix to produce a whole batch of delightful adventures. Sum fun!

     The learning is somewhat more straightforward in Fly Guy Presents: The White House, the latest book in which Tedd Arnold uses Fly Guy and his boy, Buzz, to give young readers some real-life information. Of course, a fly narrator is not exactly ordinary, as is shown when he contributes to the book by referring to the president as “prezzz!” and the president’s home as being a “big houze!” The Fly Guy Presents books are always thin, but they manage to pack in a good deal of information of both the expected and unexpected sort. Any book about the White House will give its address, explain that the president of the United States lives in it, explain that it contains 132 rooms, and mention that the British set fire to it during the War of 1812. Arnold naturally includes all this. But he also makes it a point to give the name of the architect (James Hoban), the number of gallons of paint needed to keep the building white (570), the number of seats in the White House movie theater (46), the number of doors in the building (412), and the year when the name “The White House” was made official (1901, by Theodore Roosevelt). A list of some White House pets naturally mentions the menagerie of Teddy Roosevelt’s kids (hyena, pig, snakes, badger and more), leading Fly Guy to ask, “No pet flyzz?” Well, no, but Arnold does include a picture of the White House beekeeper. Fly Guy Presents: The White House offers the usual informative-amusing-and-offbeat approach that other Fly Guy Presents books use to intrigue young readers about the real world. It even contains a couple of pages about supposed White House ghosts – fitting, somehow, in a factual book narrated by a cartoon boy and his pet fly.

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