May 04, 2017


Teddy the Dog: (Almost) Best in Show. By Keri Claiborne Boyle. Pictures by Jonathan Sneider. Harper. $17.99.

Raisin, the Littlest Cow. By Miriam Busch. Illustrated by Larry Day. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

     The kids who will read and love these books know all too well what it is like to have a personality that is bigger than one’s physical size. Super-self-confident Teddy the dog has an outsize view of himself and his abilities, and that is just great when he zips through the park on roller blades (wearing a helmet along with his trademark celebrity-style sunglasses), or takes a bubble bath with two rubber ducks and four soothing candles. When it comes to a formal dog show, though – well, Teddy is going to learn a little something about himself. But only a little! Keri Claiborne Boyle keeps this particular voyage of sort-of-self-discovery light throughout, as Teddy is forced to get to the show in an all-cats bus called the “ChauFUR Express” and then immediately starts showing the other contestants all the wrong things to do. Teddy himself – as the pictures by Jonathan Sneider make abundantly clear – is blissfully unaware that there is anything wrong with raiding the judges’ refrigerator and chewing up a fellow contestant’s books. Teddy doesn’t really “get” the dog show, being unwilling to jump “when there’s no food to steal off a counter,” and asking “who would want to sit and stay when you can jump and run?” Good questions, those – but the wrong ones to ask during a competition. “I have standards!” Teddy insists. But so do dog shows, and Teddy eventually realizes that he “just wasn’t cut out for the show life after all.” A trip home, again on the “ChauFUR Express,” gives Teddy time to realize that “we’re all best in our own show,” and that is an apt message for perhaps over-enthusiastic young humans as well.

     Of course, not all young people – or the book characters representing them – have personalities bigger than their bodies. Some are just fine being small, such as Raisin, the Littlest Cow. Raisin is “perfectly content” to be tiny, to be doted on by the larger cows, and to make lists of things she likes (movies, the color brown, sprinklers) and ones she does not like (cauliflower, tomato juice, thunder). One thing Raisin does not like is change: “But change came, as change does,” writes Miriam Busch, and Larry Day shows the big brown cows (remember that Raisin likes that color) rushing away from Raisin (who is black and white) to see Raisin’s mother’s new baby, “who was even smaller than Raisin.” Uh-oh. This happens on a Thursday, and Raisin stomps off and adds Thursdays to the list of things she does not like. And she makes a new list, this one of “places to run away to.” Raisin looks adorable even when she scowls, which is a good thing, since her new baby brother makes her scowl all the time. Invited to name the baby, Raisin – who has already said he looks like a cauliflower – suggests “Thursday,” and then comments, “Thursday smells funny.” Clearly a first-class snit is in progress, driven by sibling rivalry. And as Raisin gets ready to run off (to Jupiter, no less), things get worse: she tries to climb onto buckets to be able to see over a fence and watch a movie at a nearby drive-in theater, but it starts to rain, and then there is thunder, and soon Raisin is running to her mother, all muddy and upset, only to find that the new baby is crying loudly at all the noise – and has eyes that are Raisin’s favorite color, brown. Sure enough, Raisin and the baby bond over their mutual dislike of the noise of the storm, and soon the baby is cooing at Raisin, and Raisin comes up with the perfect baby name: Raindrop. And all ends happily and amusingly, the lesson in this case being that even if it’s great to be small, it’s also great to be a big sibling. And to plan to visit Jupiter with the baby instead of running away there on one’s own.

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