November 03, 2005


Edward Lear’s “A Was Once an Apple Pie.” Adapted and illustrated by Suse MacDonald. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $12.99.

It’s Happy Bunny: What’s Your Sign? By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $7.99.

     Edward Lear’s alphabet poem, replete with silly rhymes for every letter of the alphabet, is less well known than his limericks and “The Owl and the Pussy-cat,” but it is just as much fun – as Suse MacDonald’s adaptation and illustrations show.  The rhymes start with “A was once an apple pie,/pidy, widy, tidy, pidy,/nice insidy, apple pie” and continue in the same vein for “E was once a little eel,/eely, weely, peely, eely,/twirly, tweely, little eel” and “U was once a unicorn,/uni, tunie, junie, uni,/see you soonie, unicorn.”  This is fun, but a little of the very similar rhyme scheme goes a very long way, making Lear’s nonsense verse more fun for kids just learning the alphabet than for ones who know it already.  Slightly older children will be captivated by MacDonald’s illustrations, which are fresh-looking and nicely colored, with lots of white space.  Macdonald is as adept with the many animals as with the few inanimate objects (I for ink, K for kite, and so on).  The illustrations, made from hand-painted cut paper, look deceptively simple but are often surprisingly attractive (J for jay, L for lark).

     Speaking of “deceptively simple,” modern astrology, which claims to have easy answers to pretty much all of life’s problems based on a person’s birth date, gets the Happy Bunny treatment in It’s Happy Bunny: What’s Your Sign?  This is the best yet in a series that might be called “when licensed characters go bad.”  Happy Bunny is one of those all-purpose greeting-card-style characters, very simply drawn and sporting a big grin.  Jim Benton throws in a ton of largely inappropriate attitude (inappropriate for such an inoffensive-looking character, that is) and gives us the Happy Bunny books.  This one starts with a page in which you answer questions to decide whether astrology is right for you – cleverly constructed so that, no mater what you say, the book advises you to “read on.”  Since people do not really want to know the future (“you’re going to get all fat and wrinkly”), Happy Bunny takes readers through the astrological zodiac, one sign at a time.  Each sign’s writeup explains that you, the reader, have many good qualities, but others with the same sign don’t: “Virgo: You are intelligent, reliable, and diligent.  Other Virgos are fussy, critical worry-warts.”  Each sign gets a ruling color, planet and lunch meat (yes, lunch meat), and its own method to answer important questions.  If you don’t like your own sign, you get to choose Happy the Bunny instead.  There are even brief supplements on palmistry and “your own personal vibe,” plus a wheel on the cover that you can turn to predict your future life.  One example: “You’ll be famous.  But for something terrible a walrus does to you.”  This may not make you happy, but it will make you laugh.

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