November 22, 2017
(++++) MISCHIEF MILD
The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Go to Bed. By Dave Engledow. Harper. $17.99.
Fox and the Bike Ride. By Corey R. Tabor. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.
Beecause I Love You. By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.
Cuteness and disobedience go together charmingly in various visual ways in a multitude of books for kids ages 4-8. Dave Engledow’s way is entirely photographic, helped immensely by the fact that his daughter, Alice Bee, is so photogenic. The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Go to Bed has a very old and straightforward plot, so old and straightforward that it is barely a plot at all: a little girl imagines all the great things that must happen while she sleeps at night, so she decides not to go to sleep at all; but after she succeeds in staying up, she is so tired the next day that she misses out on things that really are fun, because she keeps dozing off while playing in the park, attending a party, and so on. Lesson learned? Not quite, because Engledow does not make this a “lesson” book. First he turns it into a counting book by having the little girl count down from 10 to one by doing numbers-related activities – which are so elaborate that it is scarcely surprising they take her all night to complete. Second, he uses his elaborately Photoshopped images – which are more the point of the book than the story is – to show all the things the girl does and all the ones she cannot do the following day: the pictures of her struggling to eat breakfast and eventually falling asleep on the “soft and fluffy” pancakes are a highlight. Third, Engledow reserves a photographic twist ending for the final page: early in the book, the girl has tried to catch her parents having fun late at night but has only found them doing uninteresting adult things, but when the girl falls “into a peaceful sleep” the next night and the parents go back “to doing their boring grown-up stuff,” Mom and Dad are actually bedecked in costumes indicating they are going to be having some sort of outlandish fun after all. So we have a touch of mischief from the parents coupled with the more-expected mischief of a little girl refusing to get the rest she needs, all shown in suitably silly photos of the cuddly/huggy/cute variety, all adding up to a very conventional kind of story told very unconventionally.
The underlying convention of Corey R. Tabor’s Fox and the Bike Ride is that of using cartoon animals as stand-ins for the children who are the book’s target audience. And here too there is one mischief-maker, Fox, amid a group of more-serious friends (Rabbit, Frog, Turtle, Elephant, Bear). The friends are about to take a nice long bike ride, a careful and safe one, and have some snack s at the end, and Fox is not happy about it – except for the snacks; he’s fine with those. Fox wants something altogether more unconventional and adventurous than what his friends plan, and he has a sneaky way to get it. He happens to be in charge of getting the bikes ready for the ride. And that gives him the chance to put all the bikes together into a single massive five-seater with a “secret red button” up front, where Fox himself will be sitting. Sure enough, at just the right point – “the tip-top of the tallest hill” – Fox puts his plan into action, sending the bike careening down what looks like a gigantic mountain (you have to turn the book sideways to see the scene) and then pressing the button. That causes expanding wings to deploy, sending the bike and all the animals into midair loop-the-loops, through the trees, down to the beach past the forest, and into the ocean – where a good and super-exciting time is had by all, assuming comments such as “gurgle glub burble” are positive ones. Eventually everyone ends up happily on the beach, except that Fox, alas, has no snack: it was supposed to be a chicken, but the chicken is floating safely in the water, with sharks between it and the shore. So Fox has learned his lesson – sort of, just as Alice Bee sort of learns hers in Engledow’s book. Fox is left at the end of Tabor’s story using a telescope to see where the chicken is, unable to get to it and presumably plotting how to do so while the other animals sleep peacefully.
Speaking of Bee, Sandra Magsamen’s Beecause I Love You is for even younger kids than the Engledow and Tabor books: it is a board book, for children up to age three or four. The mischief in it is suitably toned down, too, and in fact comes mainly from seeing the way Magsamen’s illustrations use a smiley-faced bee and other animal characters to tell the youngest book-aware kids just how special they are. The bee goes with the words, “You’re so beeutiful in every way!” And then come suitably simple rhymes with pictures showing a smiling ladybug, a happy firefly, a delighted whale (how did that get in here?), an air-dancing butterfly, and a cutely crawling caterpillar. All the creatures, even the whale, sport a pair of plush black antennae, thanks to the book’s very clever design. The antennae emerge from the extra-thick final page and joined-to-it back cover of the book, and Magsamen’s drawings are positioned so each critter depicted seems to wear them on its head (and yes, the whale-with-antennae is the funniest, and this illustration is clearly the book’s most mischievous). Brightly colored, very simply written, charmingly illustrated and including the simplest lesson possible – which it communicates in language that is fairly straightforward and pictures that are anything but – Beecause I Love You is a delightful little board-book foray into a not-quite-serious way of sharing a sentiment of some serious love.