September 01, 2005


Whittington. By Alan Armstrong. Illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Random House. $14.95.

The Blue Day Book for Kids. By Bradley Trevor Greive. Andrews McMeel. $9.95.

Here are two very different but equally clever looks at the animal-human interrelationship. Whittington is the story of a barn filled with unwanted animals, and the kind old man named Bernie who keeps them there in what comfort he can provide. It’s more particularly the story of Bernie’s orphaned grandchildren, Abby and Ben, who help feed the animals. Ben is eight years old but cannot read well – so Abby gives him lessons in the barn, at the instigation of Whittington and the Lady.

And who are they? Whittington is a stray cat who shows up at the barn one day and asks entrance of the Lady, a duck with clipped wings who is nominally in charge of the animals. But this is much more than a talk-to-the-animals story. Consider that Whittington the cat has taken his name from Dick Whittington’s cat, the fabled 14th-century feline who supposedly helped Dick earn his fortune and be elected Lord Mayor of London three times. The story is almost certainly apocryphal, but who cares? Whittington the cat tells it with relish – in installments that Ben gets to hear only if he works his way through his reading assignments. Alan Armstrong thus weaves a wonderful back-and-forth book that is all about modern days and olden days and the ever-wonderful power of storytelling. By the end, when Ben himself becomes a storyteller – by narrating his experience of learning to read – expect to shed a tear or two.

The animals in The Blue Day Book for Kids appear in dozens of delightfully anthropomorphic photographs of the type in which Bradley Trevor Greive specializes. Greive’s original The Blue Day Book was a big hit with its simple story about feeling down and how to cheer yourself up. Simply looking at the photos and captions helped a lot. So it does here as well, but this is a somewhat larger-size book (easier for small hands to hold), with narration geared more to kids: “A blue day is a day when nothing goes right and you feel kind of lousy” (this caption appears below a photo of a bear apparently wiping a tear from its eye). Greive explains typical blue-day feelings, such as the idea that people “are picking on you” (wonderful photo of a bulldog staring intensely at a squirrel). Then Greive suggests ways to beat a blue mood, such as singing loudly (photo of three open-mouthed zebras) or being creative (a chimp painting a picture). The text is a little sappy at times (“you can change a blue day into a new day”), but the photos alone should be plenty to help most kids (and adults) beat the blues.

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