April 19, 2018
(+++) FAMILY MATTERS
A Most Unusual Day. By Sydra Mallery. Illustrations by E.B. Goodale. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.
We Love Our Mom! / We Love Our Dad! By Jan & Mike Berenstain. HarperFestival. $4.99.
Gentle and sweet, Sydra Mallery’s A Most Unusual Day is all about a series of mishaps and unusual elements of a little girl’s day – and just what causes everything to be somewhat topsy-turvy. It is a lovely book for families adopting or considering adopting children, for that is what its underlying topic is. Mallery, herself an adoptive parent, finds a way to capture the excitement, uncertainty and confusion that a girl in the book’s target age range (4-8) might well feel on the day that her new baby sister is supposed to arrive. From where? That is never stated; indeed, there is nothing here about the adoption process and nothing about the adoptive parents except their appearance at the end – in a charming scene in which it turns out that they are just as befuddled on this day as is Caroline, the girl at the center of the book. Mallery repeatedly contrasts what Caroline usually does, at home and at school, with what she does on this particular, special, exciting, rather unnerving day – from forgetting to wear socks and take her lunch from home, to accidentally knocking out another girl’s loose tooth (the girl is happy to have it gone), to making big messes when she tries to clean up small ones. Caroline’s preoccupation, excitement and tinge of nervousness all come through both in Mallery’s text and in E.B. Goodale’s illustrations, especially so when, after school, Caroline’s usually “calm and collected” parents are anything but that when they bring Caroline her new baby sister. The book’s audience is self-limited – families not involved in adoptions will find little to captivate them here on an emotional level, and even if they enjoy the book at arm’s length, they will not get its full flavor. A Most Unusual Day is about a certain specific kind of unusual day, one that Mallery knows from her own life and brings heartwarmingly to the fore in portraying a far-from-ordinary day for the imaginary Caroline.
The experiences of families of all sorts are reflected in a new, combined edition of two Berenstain Bears books: We Love Our Mom! (originally published in 2012) and We Love Our Dad! (originally from 2013). The combined edition invites kids to read one book, then flip it over and read the other, as the “back” cover becomes the front of the additional book. This is fun, and makes the combined volume suitable for both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – or, really, for pretty much anytime. Of course, it is suitable only for fans of the Berenstain Bears and of the rather overly sweet way their stories are inevitably told. For instance, at the start of the Mom book, “everything was fresh and fragrant” and the various animals are doing Berenstain-ish things: for instance, “Mama Frog was taking a jar full of tadpoles out for a stroll,” the jar being placed on a very small wagon-like stroller that the frog, walking on its hind legs, is pushing. The book includes plenty of examples of the way “Mama Bear took care of her cubs,” and the cubs’ determination to do something special for Mama Bear leads to creation of a scrapbook filled with family pictures that, of course, result in “a tear in Mama’s eye” and a trip out for brunch. In the Dad book, the cubs consider making Papa Bear his own scrapbook, but Mama Bear suggests “it would be a nice gift if you cubs did his jobs for him on Father’s Day and let him relax.” So the cubs make a series of we-will-do-your-chores gift certificates and give them to their dad – but when they actually try to do everything, they find out that chores are harder than they look, and Papa Bear has to pitch in and help out after all. Which he does, of course, with alacrity and enjoyment. The Berenstain Bears books in general, and these two in particular, are a bit too good to be true, a bit too idealized for many families to be able to accept them at face value. But parents and kids who enjoy the characters and are looking for tie-ins to the days on which moms and dads are supposed to get some extra attention from the family will certainly not be disappointed in this two-for-one paperback volume.