May 18, 2017

(++++) FEED ME!

Morris Mole. By Dan Yaccarino. Harper. $17.99.

Good Morning, Grizzle Grump! By Aaron Blecha. Harper. $17.99.

     Small characters and big ones need to figure out how to get something to eat – without, in the case of a small one, getting eaten in the process. Morris Mole is the story of a very small character indeed: littler than his brothers, all of whom wear miners’ outfits and dig ever-deeper in search of things to eat, Morris wears a natty suit, eats more delicately than any other mole in the family, carries an umbrella, and reads books. So naturally, when the moles find themselves facing a food shortage, all the big moles know that they have to start digging still deeper. But Morris has a different idea – to which the bigger moles will not even listen. So Morris listens to himself, and he digs up instead of down. And sure enough, he eventually emerges into a beautifully colored above-ground world at which he gazes with wonder from beneath his umbrella. Smelling flowers, listening to birds, and munching on a strawberry that is almost as big as he is, Morris is so enchanted that he almost forgets why he came: to find food for all the moles. So he sets about gathering “crunchy creepy crawlies,” “wonderfully wiggly worms,” “yummy nuts” and other mole delicacies – until he accidentally comes face-to-face (or, more accurately, face-to-mouth) with a hungry fox. Is this the end of Morris? Well, no, because an even bigger predator – a wolf – suddenly appears, frightening the fox so much that the only thing he can think of is to hide. Morris, ever obliging, uses his digging talent to get the fox into a hole, and the wolf departs, leaving Morris a hero not only to the fox but also to the other meadow animals, who help gather food for the moles and dump it into a Morris-dug hole. The motto of Dan Yaccarino’s book is quite an obvious one: “‘I may be small,’ Morris said, ‘but I can do big things.’” It is, however, a wonderful motto for the young children who will find Morris and his adventures delightful – and serves as a suggestion that they, too, can think outside the box. Or beyond the tunnel.

     But Morris and the other moles, all put together, are not nearly as hungry as Grizzle Grump. He is a bear, after all, and has just awakened from a multi-month sleep – with an appetite as huge as his loudly growling belly. As perky, big-eyed animals sport and play in the springtime warmth, Aaron Blecha shows Grizzle Grump looking for food and being constantly frustrated. He dances with joy to find all sorts of berries growing in the woods – but while Grizzle Grump is looking around for the picnic-basket-carrying squirrel who knocked on his door to wake him up, other animals grab all the berries and run off with them. Oh no! With his growling, empty tummy, Grizzle Grump is back on the hunt for food – and comes to a stream filled with delicious fish. He grabs a pile of them – but other bears run off with them before Grizzle Grump can settle down for even a single morsel. Arrggh! So it goes, again and again: Grizzle Grump cannot even make his own pile of yummy and wiggly bugs without other animals making off with them. But Grizzle Grump, still with the squirrel nearby, keeps following his nose, finding delicious smells that eventually lead him to – a surprise party, where all the foods he has gathered are waiting for him! So everything ends happily for all the animals (well, except the fish and bugs): everybody eats everything – even the squirrel enjoys an apple – and all is well, with Grizzle Grump much less grizzly and much less grumpy at the book’s end than he was at its beginning. Oh – and he is ready for another nap after all that food. After which he will no doubt be hungry again.

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