February 23, 2006


Always Friends: Honey Bunny. By Josephine Page. Illustrated by Roberta Beasley. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Duck Book and Purse. Illustrated by Jill McDonald. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Eric & Julieta: Como mamá/Just Like Mom; Es mío/It’s Mine. By Isabel Muňoz. Illustrated by Gustavo Mazali. Scholastic en Espaňol. $3.50 each.

     Sometimes the packaging is the point.  Scholastic does not expect parents to buy its so-called “novelty books” for children because of the quality of writing or pictures.  These books are put together in such a way that the packaging itself is the main attraction, with the book secondary – although one hopes that the young children who get these items will enjoy the books and want to move on to more traditionally bound ones.

     Always Friends: Honey Bunny is barely a book at all.  Intended for the very youngest children – up to age three – it is a small, attractive yellow bunny with a Velcro closure that, when opened, reveals a tiny six-page board book about the things Honey Bunny likes.  Parents will have to read the little book to their children – the type is small – and that is part of the fun: a baby can play with the plush toy and then, when he or she asks for a story, Mommy or Daddy can say, “Let’s read Honey Bunny’s very own story.”  The board book is very solidly bound into the bunny, and its pages are double-strength – it should withstand any level of enthusiasm with which a young child handles it.

     Duck Book and Purse is for slightly older kids – ages 3-5 – and accordingly has a greater emphasis on the writing.  This too is a book inside a toy, but here the book is a larger-size board book and the purse simply covers it as an additional binding.  This eight-page book uses bigger type and should be readable by young children.  The purse itself is cute, with a duck on the cover and sturdy handles.  But you can’t carry much in it: the only open space is a small pocket marked “duck” on the back.  (Scholastic also offers a bunny purse – same idea, different color and different book.)

     As kids get a bit older and are reading on their own, many will be exposed to multilingual classrooms – whether they are native English speakers or students learning English as a second language.  The Eric & Julieta books look like ordinary eight-inch-square paperbacks, but what is special here is the way they tell their simple stories simultaneously in two languages.  Each page is given first in Spanish, then in English.  Thus, in Como mamá/Just Like Mom, kids will read, “Falta un poco de maquillaje, nada más.  All you need is a little make-up.”  And in Es mío/It’s Mine, they will read, “Al final, le di un crayón: el violeta (que a mí no me gusta).  I gave her the purple crayon. I don’t like the purple crayon, anyway.”  The translations are not precise, but the words are idiomatic in both languages, and should give children a good sense of how to express themselves in both Spanish and English.  And the stories – fairly straightforward big-brother-little-sister tales with a touch of humor – are pleasant in either language.

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