September 08, 2005


The Fish in Room 11. By Heather Dyer. Chicken House/Scholastic. $3.99.

The Fourteen Bears in Summer and Winter. By Evelyn Scott. Illustrated by Virginia Parsons. Golden Books. $14.95.

     There are so many ways to create animal adventures for kids that children of all ages can find animal books to enjoy.  But of course, first you have to decide how animalish and how humanlike to make the animals.  Or, in the case, of The Fish in Room 11, you have to figure out if they are animals at all!  Heather Dyer’s lightweight, lighthearted story is all about a little boy, raised as an orphan by the staff of a fading Oceanside hotel – a hotel that gets some very unusual guests.  They are the Flots (“floats,” get it?), and they are…well…mermaids.  Young Toby doesn’t mind this, and quickly becomes fast friends with Eliza, who is about his age (the book is aimed at preteens).  Then Toby meets Eliza’s parents, who would in an earlier age be described as “antic,” and decides he really likes the whole family – and wants them to stay at the hotel.  They’d love to, but of course no one must know they are mermaids…since some people, especially the nasty hotel manager, Mr. Harris, would consider them no better than fish and want to put them on display for money.  Dyer’s tale moves at madcap pace as Toby enlists the aid of an old sea captain to help conceal the Flots, while Mr. Harris becomes increasingly suspicious and eventually decides to show the mermaids to the world – a decision that doesn’t quite work out for him.  But things do work out quite well for Toby, who eventually learns who his parents were and why he mermaids have always been so interested in him.  It’s a tall tale filled with laughter.

     The two stories of The Fourteen Bears are animal stories of a different kind, for a younger readership.  There is something quaint in these seasonal tales, originally published separately in 1969 and 1973.  They are simple stories about everyday activities of anthropomorphic animals – all 14 of which have names and, surprisingly, slightly different personalities.  From the expected (a honey farm run by Mother Bear) to the unexpected (trees that look the same outside but are all decorated differently inside), the book is sweet and uncomplicated.  In summer, the bears eat and swim and sleep; in winter, they play outdoors in warm clothing, skate on a frozen pond, and make icicle decorations for one of their trees.  Virginia Parsons’ charming illustrations nicely complement Evelyn Scott’s pleasant little stories.

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