January 11, 2018


Bobo and the New Baby. By Rebecca Minhsuan Huang. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.

Horses. By Seymour Simon. Harper. $17.99.

Water. By Seymour Simon. Harper. $17.99.

101 Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles. By April Jones Prince. Illustrated by Bob Kolar. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $8.99.

     There are plenty of books for kids about sibling rivalry when a new baby arrives, but not nearly so many about “dogling rivalry,” which is essentially what Rebecca Minhsuan Huang charmingly explores in Bobo and the New Baby. Bobo is an absolutely adorable dachshund with a doggone good life that basically includes snoozing, digging, eating, chasing and, um, snoozing again. His humans, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, spoil him and take him everywhere, and that is just fine with Bobo. But somehow Mr. and Mrs. Lee have neglected to warn Bobo in advance that they are about to bring home a new member of the family. Well, Bobo is only a dog, right? But dogs have feelings, too, and when the two humans return with a third, miniature human, suddenly Bobo is very, very excited and happy – his enthusiasm beautifully communicated in one of Huang’s most-delightful illustrations. Unfortunately, Bobo’s happiness gets him scolded: “‘You will scare the baby,’ says Mr. Lee,” and poor Bobo, who never meant any harm, is left downcast and dejected and just plain miserable. He walks away into a room whose darkness reflects his unhappy mood, leaving behind the three people in a room that is full of light. And now, whenever Bobo wants attention – even to go for a walk – Mr. and Mrs. Lee tell him “no,” because the baby is eating, sleeping, needs changing, or something else. Poor Bobo! And then, to make matters worse, Bobo sees a bee that has gotten into the house, and knows he has to protect the baby. So he chases the bee everywhere, making quite a mess, and just as he leaps to catch it, Mr. Lee comes in and tells him to stop because he will “hurt the baby.” Mr. Lee’s shadow completely covers the poor, sad little dog, whose downcast eyes tell the whole story – up to this point. But then Mrs. Lee spots the bee and realizes that Bobo was only trying to help, and Mr. Lee understands, too, and apologizes, and so Bobo is formally introduced to the baby, and the four members of the family are last seen happily relaxing together. For a story aimed at young children, Bobo and the New Baby is a surprisingly realistic look at how dogs may feel when a baby is brought home. It was created by Huang as a counterbalance to a true story of a couple who got rid of their dog once they brought home a baby – a terrible thing to do to a loving, loyal family member who just happens to belong to a different species. Huang’s book, in addition to being a sweet story in and of itself, can be a valuable teaching tool for kids and adults alike, hopefully making it possible for more stories like Bobo’s to have endings as happy as this one.

     Children looking more for facts and beautiful photography than for a warmhearted fictional story (even one with a real-life tie-in) will enjoy the new, updated edition of Seymour Simon’s Horses, a book originally dating to 2006. Simon has written hundreds of books – more than 300, a remarkable number – and manages again and again to provide a well-thought-out, clearly presented set of facts that he mixes with attractive photographs to help young readers learn about the natural world. Horses, like dogs, are longtime human companions, and Horses starts by pointing out the animals’ usefulness ever since they were tamed some 5,000 years ago. Pictures of fossils show how prehistoric horses gradually evolved into the animals we know today, and then Simon moves to more-recent times to explain how horses came to America and how wild herds grew from horses that escaped captivity. The photos of horses, with and without people, tell all by themselves a great deal of the story here: one horse is seen attached to a cart that it is supposed to pull (and Simon notes that pulling strength is still called “horsepower”); two are shown nuzzling each other; two are shown competitively rearing up on their hind legs to assert dominance; and so on. Again and again, Simon inserts small and fascinating facts that neatly complement the photos: horses can see in almost a complete circle; they can see yellow and green, but not all colors; they can sense when people are angry or scared, possibly by detecting changes in humans’ smell; a foal can walk less than one hour after birth; and so on. His discussion of the way a horse moves is especially interesting, since the way horses’ legs move together varies depending on the animal’s gait. The strength of horses is also amazing to learn: some teams of two can pull 50 tons, as much as the weight of 10 elephants. There is also an explanation of the difference between horses and ponies. Simon’s books are formulaic in layout and fairly standardized in narrative, but because they are books of facts for young readers, that is all to the good: a book like Horses is involving, educational, easy to read and understand, and very helpful in giving information about an animal that has been enormously important to human civilization for thousands of years.

     Even more important to humans – and to horses and all other living things – is water, the subject of a brand-new Simon book whose layout and writing style are every bit as accessible as those in Horses. Here too, Simon includes plenty of interesting facts about something that we usually take for granted: “Water is the only substance on Earth that is found naturally in all three states of matter: as a liquid (water), as a solid (ice), and as a gas (water vapor).” “Water…dissolves more substances than any other liquid. Even rocks are dissolved by water, though it may take many years.” “Almost two-thirds of an adult’s weight is water and nearly 80 percent of a newborn baby’s weight is water.” Coupling this recitation of well-selected facts with fascinating photos – such as one of an insect standing on water, illustrating the principle of surface tension – Simon in Water explains the water cycle, the way ocean levels change during periods of worldwide cooling and warming, the way water in rivers can carve valleys and shape the ground, the areas where ice and snow exist year-round (about 10% of Earth’s surface), the existence of frozen deserts in the Arctic and Antarctic, and more. Simon has a well-honed talent for covering a lot of material in a small amount of space – and making the facts interesting by including relevant photos, such as one of a scuba diver near a school of beautiful tropical fish opposite a page explaining just how heavy water is and just how much pressure there is in the oceans, whose average depth is two-and-a-half miles. Informative and intriguing, fact-packed but presented in a simple-to-understand way with easily followed style, Water is a first-rate introduction to what is, so far as we humans know, the basis of life: “When we look to find life on distant planets or moons, the first thing we look for is water.”

     Indeed, although we cannot be 100% sure about the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe, we do know that water is crucial to life on Earth – all kinds of life, from the smallest to the largest, from life as we know it today to life as it was long, long before humans existed. And way back before the first horse, and even before the first horse’s ancestor, Hyracotherium, which lived 55 million years ago, the world was dominated not by mammals such as horses (much less humans) but by reptiles, most famously by dinosaurs. A book that is at once simple and surprisingly comprehensive in discussing and showing what is known about many extinct reptiles is April Jones Prince’s 101 Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Reptiles. This oversized, unusually shaped board book, with pages cut to resemble the spinal scales of the Stegosaurus on the cover, relies heavily on Bob Kolar’s clear and simple illustrations to show young readers how different the many types of ancient reptiles were. And they were very different indeed: Kolar’s pictures use the latest scientific findings to indicate, for example, the distinction in head shape between superficially similar long-necked dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus and Barosaurus, or between flying reptiles (which were not dinosaurs) such as Dimorphodon and Pterodaustro. Those long, complicated-looking names are given pronunciation guides throughout the book: Prince breaks each into syllables and shows just which of those syllables carries an accent. The repeated refrain of the book goes, “Every dino has a name./ No two dinos were the same!” Sometimes this is varied – for non-dinosaurs – to, “Every reptile has a name./ No two reptiles were the same!” This encourages kids to look closely at Kolar’s pictures to find out just how the various sort-of-similar-looking creatures really did differ in important respects. The book also serves to familiarize interested young readers with dinos that are far less frequently mentioned than “superstars” such as Tyrannosaurus rex: the same group of powerful meat-eaters includes Herrerasaurus, Troƶdon, Tarbosaurus, and others, all of them shown as clearly as current scientific knowledge allows. This is a short book, but it is packed amazingly full of information – and the end, which spreads pictures of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles out over two pages and invites kids to examine and count all of them, is a fine summation of the entire book and an intriguing invitation to examine each of the creatures more closely while counting all of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment