November 17, 2005


I Love You Dude. By V. Radunsky. Gulliver Books/Harcourt. $16.

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? By Jane Yolen & Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $15.99.

     Vladimir Radunsky’s books are, in a word, weird.  And we mean that in the nicest possible way.  His last one, The Mighty Asparagus, told the tale of the titular vegetable with art taken from Old Masters paintings.  Now he has turned to art of a different sort: doodling.  I Love You Dude is about a strange-looking skinny blue shoe-wearing elephant doodled on a wall with the book’s title above him (that’s “him,” not “it”).  Dude runs away from the wall before he can be cleaned off or painted over, attaches himself to a little girl’s drinking mug, flees again when the girl’s aunt pours hot coffee into the mug, has an adventure at the seashore involving a huge wave and a man with a tremendous belly, tries unsuccessfully to join a circus whose feature attraction is seven elephants in pink underwear, and eventually ends up framed and hanging in an art museum, where perfectly parodied self-defined connoisseurs compare him with Picasso and Matisse and call him “subtle, yet provocative!”  This breathless summary pales before Radunksy’s tale itself, which he calls “a long short story.”  The book will delight even very young kids, who will feel sad for the blue elephant that wants a home and will enjoy the silly art work, which includes two-page spreads of the seven elephants and of a billboard for an elephant-hunting movie designated “a V. Radunsky production.”  Older kids and adults will get even more from this book, whose subtle satire, clever use of perspective in the drawings, and frequently changing typefaces make it as much fun to look at as it is to read.

     The “How Do Dinosaurs” series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague has a fine surrealistic look to it as well.  It is used to create perhaps the most unusual “mind your manners” books around.  Teague draws anatomically accurate dinosaurs – their real scientific names are given inside the front and back covers – in completely absurd poses in modern urban and suburban settings.  Of course, the dinosaurs represent kids, making huge roaring fusses about everything: “How does a dinosaur eat all his food?  Does he burp, does he belch, or make noises quite rude?”  Human parents stare disapprovingly at the misbehaving dinosaurs – but in the latter part of the book, the dinos stop sticking beans up their noses and squeezing orange juice with their toes and start eating properly.  When they do, they look every bit as silly as they did when misbehaving – a fact that should make the etiquette instructions go down more easily.  A particularly nice touch here is a mini-book attached to the inside back cover.  It’s just the right size to slip into a pocket or purse when taking your little dinosaur to a restaurant, where a refresher course in etiquette is always in good taste.  Especially when it keeps his or her hands busy.

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