August 09, 2018
(++++) HOLIDAY CRITTERS
Lots of Cats. By E. Dee Taylor. Harper. $16.99.
Bear’s Spooky Book of Hidden Things. By Gergely Dudás. Harper. $8.99.
I Love to Gobble You Up! By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.
Merry Christmas, Little One! By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.
Animal-focused kids’ books are fun at any time of year, but they take on new dimensions when tied to specific holidays and celebrations. E. Dee Tylor offers a Halloween-themed animal story for ages 4-8 in Lots of Cats, complete with some especially attractive illustrations. The tale is about a very small, independent-minded witch named Margaret, first seen sitting with a picnic lunch on a tree branch, who is always busy but wishes, from time to time, for someone with whom to play. Eventually she decides to cast a spell to make a playmate, and starts putting various ingredients into her cauldron – then decides to add even more of each ingredient to be sure the whole thing will really work well. And it does – too well. Margaret ends up with not one but fully a dozen cats – each of a different color and given a distinctive personality in Taylor’s charming pictures. The cats take over Margaret’s house, as cats will – the plump white one with a black eye patch, seen sitting in human posture in Margaret’s chair while daintily nibbling a cookie, is especially amusing. And Margaret is very happy indeed: the two-page picture of her with all the cats, flying about thanks to a “broomstick-extension spell,” is a delight. But Margaret soon realizes (as will children who see all the cats and start asking for a dozen for their own home) that the cats require lots of food, shed lots of hair, and produce lots of poop (Margaret has to wear a face mask when dealing with that). In fact, the cats create a major mess in the little witch’s formerly orderly house: “Margaret couldn’t find magic words that would make cats follow directions,” because as any cat owner knows, such words do not exist. So she scares them all out of the house – by simply using a vacuum cleaner – and soon is alone again. But “alone” is less fun now that it was in pre-cat days, so she casts a spell to bring them back – but mistakenly gets bats instead of cats. So she searches everywhere for the missing cats, without success; but of course there is a happy ending, thanks to a dream one night, and at the end of Lots of Cats, Margaret is again surrounded by lots of cats – to which she presumably manages to adjust. The front and back covers of the book, beneath the wraparound paper jacket, offer wonderfully individualized portraits of each of the dozen cats. And the story, although vaguely Halloween-themed because of its central character, is really quite appropriate and amusing at any time of year.
Bear’s Spooky Book of Hidden Things, on the other hand, is strictly a Halloween book, and a very clever one. Gergely Dudás here offers a series of can-you-find-it pictures along the lines of Where’s Waldo? And these are not simple ones to search. The story is that Bear loves Halloween and looks forward to getting some honeycomb when trick-or-treating. But before that happens – at the very end of the book – Bear receives lots and lots of other treats from his various animal friends. Bear knows he will be given many things, so the book starts with a search for a red wagon that he can use to haul everything. And then the find-it pages really begin in earnest. Young readers need to help Bear find a caramel apple on a page packed with hay bales, on which four of Bear’s fox friends are dressed as ghosts. Finding candy corn on a page filled with real corn is the next challenge, followed by locating a lollipop on a page that “the Frankenstein bunnies” have filled with “ew – eyeballs.” There is a carved pumpkin to be found on a page packed with autumn-colored leaves; a bottle of witch’s brew concealed on a shelf in a haunted library; a toy skull in a big pile of toy bones; and more. Dudás takes all the spookiness out of every potentially scary scenario: he has an excellent sense of the fun and very slightly shivery nature of kids’ Halloween. Page after page, Bear’s red wagon fills up with all sorts of enjoyable goodies, and the items kids need to find become quite challenging: a donut might seem easy to spot on a page filled with cobwebs, but it is not; nor is it at all simple to find the magic wand on a page packed with candy – including a lot of stick candy that almost, but not quite, looks like magic wands. Bear’s Spooky Book of Hidden Things is for ages 4-8, and kids at the younger end of that age range may become frustrated in the search for some of the harder-to-locate items. So parents should go through the book and find everything first – if they can! By the end of the book, after all the parties and all the treats, kids and parents alike will enjoy a non-puzzle page that simply shows Bear relaxing in his room, happily eating the honeycomb that his friends have brought him.
The enjoyment is for even younger children, from infants to three-or-four-year-olds, in a new Sandra Magsamen board book, I Love to Gobble You Up! No, this is not a scary Halloween-themed book – the word “gobble” might carry some frightfulness with it for the October holiday, but by November, Thanksgiving month, it means something very different. And this book is indeed a Thanksgiving-themed treat. As she usually does in board books, Magsamen offers very simple, brief, age-appropriate text that is “made with love,” as the cover here says. And the book is designed to be cuddly: soft plush turkey tail feathers, tightly bound into the back of the book, stick out of the top, and every page of Magsamen’s drawings incorporates the bright orange feathers into the design. The simply drawn turkey on the cover is surrounded by hearts, and then on the first open page, the hearts – representing kisses of the “gobbling you up” type – are all over its body. Hearts flow and float everywhere in the book as the word “gobble,” always shown in six different colors, is used again and again: “I’d gobble you here, and I’d gobble you there,” for example. Like other Magsamen board books, this one is super-short, with a super-simple message that should be exactly what very young children will love to hear – especially if parents read the book with the child in their lap and punctuate the writing with lots of little tummy gobbles (and other sorts of gobble kisses) during the reading. The turkeys here are not for eating – they are strictly for the hugs-and-kisses style of gobbling and for offering kids a heaping helping of love and fun.
The same heaping helping of love is also on display in Magsamen’s Merry Christmas, Little One! Here it comes from snowpeople – snowmen, snowwomen and snowkids – who decorate a nicely rhyming board book that is more conventionally designed than Magsamen’s one for Thanksgiving: it is a lift-the-flap book. One left page, for example, says, “Wreaths are strung with twinkling lights” – with the word “wreaths” in multiple colors – while the right-hand page shows a multicolored wreath that kids can lift to reveal the words, “Friends sing songs that warm our nights” (the friends being snowpeople and the word “friends” being in multiple colors). These pages are a bit larger than usual for board books, and are made thickly to be easy to grasp and turn and difficult to tear. The book eventually leads to a left-hand page that says, “A day of laughter, love, and fun!” (The multicolored words here are, of course, “laughter,” “love,” and “fun.”) The right-hand page then shows a stylized Christmas tree with a star on top and otherwise decorated entirely with little red hearts. Lifting it reveals four words, the first two in multiple colors: “Merry Christmas, little one!” The joy-to-the-world and joy-to-the-family messages are simply and very pleasantly communicated here – and just to be sure the book does have a Magsamen touch, the front cover sports the same heart-decorated tree shown on the book’s last page, but in a soft plush design quite suitable for pushing and poking and maybe even for hugging. Magsamen’s books all do seem to be particularly huggable, whatever their characters and whatever the season.