December 28, 2017
Come Home Already! By Jory John. Illustrated by Benji Davies. Harper. $17.99.
Ducks Away! By Mem Fox. Illustrations by Judy Horacek. Scholastic. $16.99.
You’re My Little Chickadee. By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.
The third one-sided-friendship book by Jory John and Benji Davies reintroduces well-meaning but over-enthusiastic Duck and slightly grumpy but basically good-hearted Bear in a tale that fits well with the previous Goodnight Already! and I Love You Already! The underlying plot is the same as before: Duck just does not know when enough is enough, and insists on pushing his friendship on Bear even when Bear wants a little time alone. For his part, Bear does not want to be crabby, not really, but he just wants Duck to give him a little space, something that Duck does not understand. So Bear goes to find his own space in Come Home Already! He heads off on a week-long fishing trip, a fact that Duck discovers when he comes to Bear’s house and sees the note on Bear’s front door. This is a big problem for Duck, who is a full-scale extrovert and does not like being by himself at all, ever. Duck comes up with all sorts of things he can do solo – read, cook, write a letter, play drums, watch a movie – but quickly decides that he “doesn’t feel like doing any of those things. …I’m just so bored.” For his part, Bear at first is happy being “alone with my thoughts,” with “no pesky neighbors knocking on my door at all hours.” But this turns out not to be exactly what Bear wants. He finds he has no skill at setting up his tent, and then it starts to rain, and he forgot to bring snacks, and cannot catch any fish, and does not know how to start a campfire – Bear, it turns out, is not much of a woodsman. A diagonally split page showing the two characters, each unhappy in a different way, each saying the word “sigh,” is the turning point here. Duck decides to go after Bear, who by this time is finding the woods “scary at night.” When Duck unexpectedly shows up, Bear is genuinely overjoyed to see him, all the more so when it turns out that Duck is “good at building tents and making fires.” And besides, Duck has brought snacks (marshmallows). So the two friends are genuinely happy with each other’s company – until the middle of the night, when Duck wants to make conversation and Bear just wants to sleep. Soon Duck and Bear are back to being something closer to “frenemies” than bosom pals, with Duck resuming his over-intrusive ways and Bear dreading the idea that Duck will keep his promise to “always be by your side.” So nothing is permanently solved in Come Home Already! But the story does develop the characters’ personalities nicely and set up further introvert/extrovert tales in the future.
There are even more ducks in Mem Fox’s Ducks Away! In fact, there are six – a mother duck and five ducklings. The story here is a variation on the old one about a mother duck going “over the hills and far away” as her babies disappear one by one, until at the end they all come back and everyone is together again. But the setting here is different: the tale takes place on a bridge, across which the duck family is waddling, when suddenly a gust of wind blows one of the little ducks off the bridge and into the water below. The book quickly becomes a counting-down story, as Mother Duck asks, “Where should I go, with four on the bridge and one below?” Soon enough, one of the ducks still on the bridge looks down into the river, loses his balance, and falls into the water – and now Mother Duck has to figure out what to do about “three on the bridge and two below.” Judy Horacek’s very simple illustrations, against a plain white background, highlight the action nicely and will make the book appealing to early readers and pre-readers. Nothing really happens in the story except that the ducklings end up, one at a time, in the river, and eventually Mother Duck flies down there herself after one duckling tells her to “go with the flow.” And at the end, the six-duck family is reunited, now in the water, and that is that – a simple, mildly amusing story with pleasant cartoon illustrations that is an easy way to help young children understand the basics of subtraction.
The bird in Sandra Magsamen’s latest adorable board book is a chick rather than a duck, or rather a “chickadee,” as the book’s title makes clear. This book is for even younger children than Ducks Away! It is simply a celebration of cuteness, with the little yellow chick having an orange comb that projects above all the pages and becomes part of each page’s illustration. The fun here comes from seeing the little chickadee in different poses, all of which are topped by the soft plush of the comb atop the book. The chick’s eyes are always closed, apparently in pleasure or with laughter, and its little body is made largely from “love hearts”: the legs are stick figures, but the wings are heart-shaped, and so are the background flowers and even the wings of a smiling bee that appears on one page. “You’re my little chickadee. You mean everything in the world to me,” Magsamen writes, and that is the entire point of the book – to affirm and reaffirm love and do so with a soft-looking (and, in the case of the comb, soft-feeling) little chick as the focus. This is a board book for the youngest children, perhaps up to age two or three, who will enjoy seeing the smiling little chick, hearing the pleasant rhymes of the text, and feeling the comb, which is tightly bound into a double-thick back cover so even eager little hands cannot inadvertently (or deliberately!) get it out. Parents and other adults looking for a sweet and simple way to express love to very young children will find plenty of help, and plenty of fun, in You’re My Little Chickadee!