February 02, 2017

(++++) BIRDS AND OTTER BEINGS


Otter Loves Easter! By Sam Garton. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $9.99.

Dill & Bizzy: Opposite Day. By Nora Ericson. Illustrated by Lisa Ericson. Harper. $17.99.

Bizarre Birds. By Sandra Horning. Scholastic. $3.99.

     Sam Garton’s charmingly na├»ve character, Otter, who showed her love of Halloween in an earlier book, now proves just as loving and just as confused where Easter is concerned. This is strictly a child’s version of a secular Easter, where the love is of baskets, eggs, rabbits, chocolate, jelly beans and such. Otter’s Easter haul, displayed across two pages in Garton’s always appropriate illustrations, includes small, medium and large chocolate eggs, additional eggs in a basket, a bag of jelly beans, a gold-wrapped chocolate bunny, and a pair of bunny ears. The fun of all the Otter books lies in how the endearingly anthropomorphic title character interacts with her friends, all of them stuffed animals, treating them as if they are alive. That is indeed what happens in Otter Loves Easter! But here Otter’s behavior leads to a clear lesson learned about selfishness and sharing. Otter Keeper (the human with whom Otter lives) says Otter must share the candy with her friends, but Otter explains, “I couldn’t share my eggs. They were mine!” Otter tries to give up some candy, really she does, but “sharing is very hard” and “eating chocolate is very easy.” So soon enough, Otter, who is always plump, is looking even plumper as she gorges herself on chocolate and is too full for breakfast and feels “a little sick.” After a nap, Otter realizes that she really should have shared with her friends, so she determines to “save Easter,” dons the bunny ears she received, and becomes “the Easter Otter!” The result is a wonderful Easter egg hunt in which, of course, Otter’s stuffed friends cannot really hunt for anything. But Otter makes sure that Pig, Teddy and Giraffe all “find” eggs, and even Otter Keeper gets one, and of course everything ends happily as the stuffed animals “share” their eggs with her – since, after all, they cannot really eat them. Otter’s misadventures always end pleasantly, and the “learn to share” lesson here is delivered amusingly enough so young readers may actually pay attention, even when chocolate is at stake.

     The lesson of Dill & Bizzy: Opposite Day is that sometimes friends can like things that are, well, opposites. This is the second book by sisters Nora and Lisa Ericson to feature Dill, “an odd duck,” and Bizzy, “a strange bird” who seems, based on his distinctively odd appearance, to have escaped from a zoo run by Dr. Seuss. In the first book, the two met and became best friends; but in this one, the friendship is put under strain. What happens is that the birds’ routine goes awry one morning when Bizzy wakes up before Dill instead of afterwards. Bizzy, who is a bit of a ditz, decides that must mean it is Opposite Day, and starts insisting that everything be done backwards: morning dinner instead of breakfast, a fast morning run instead of the birds’ usual slow wake-up waddle, and so on. Dill has soon had more than enough of this and says he does not like Opposite Day and wants things quiet, but Bizzy says that, since this is Opposite Day, that must mean Dill loves Opposite Day and wants a loud dance party. Dill simply  cannot get through to Bizzy, who insists on everything being the opposite of normal, to the point of the birds brushing dust on their faces before bed instead of washing them. It is only when Dill realizes that if it is truly Opposite Day, then the two birds must be the opposite of best friends – that is, worst enemies – that Bizzy agrees it cannot be Opposite Day anymore. So all ends happily, if with a rather large helping of bemusement, until, inevitably, Bizzy wakes up the next morning with his feet where his head usually is and vice versa, and declares it is going to be Backwards Day. What happens next is left up to suitably delighted young readers to figure out for themselves.

     Dill and Bizzy are purely fictional – especially Bizzy – but there are some strange real-world birds out there. And in a new Scholastic Level 2 Reader called Bizarre Birds, Sandra Horning explains about and shows some of them. There is the hoatzin, which smells like cow poop and has chicks born with claws on their wings; the ribbon-tailed bird of paradise, some of which have tail feathers almost as long as a baseball bat; the oxpecker, which lives on top of large grazing animals and eats their parasites – and their earwax; the California condor, whose wings can be up to 10 feet wide; the common tailorbird, which makes a nest by gathering green leaves, poking holes in them, and sewing them together with spider webs or thin plant strips; and others. To keep the book easy to read, the type is large and the amount of information small, but there is enough here – both in words and in photographs – to intrigue budding naturalists and encourage them to seek out more-in-depth information on wonders of the real world of animals in other books. The Level 2 books are designed for developing readers in first and second grade, but any child with an interest in unusual creatures will likely enjoy this one, whose photos will attract younger children and whose text, although simple, gives enough information to get older kids interested in finding out more about the 14 birds shown here – and the many others, including quite a few strange ones, that can be discovered in other books.

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