March 16, 2006


Fast Food.  By Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $12.99.

Baby Food; Dog Food. By Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $6.99 each.

     The continuing series of food-based books by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers is a marvel of creativity.  Each book uses artistically and whimsically cut and shaped produce to explore a theme or tell a story – and each is as fascinating and as much fun for adults as for kids.  Fast Food breaks new ground in the series by providing a connecting narrative, done in rhymes that are both clever and illustrative of the book’s elaborate food designs.  The chief “character” here is a mushroom man – a smiling fellow made entirely of mushrooms.  He and various other characters go places using all sorts of conveyances.  One page features oranges, for example: “Pedal hard aboard a bike. Add a wheel, and it’s a trike!”  Here, a smiling scallion character rides a two-wheeler while the mushroom character (who also sports a perpetual smile) rides a tricycle; both conveyances are made of orange-slice wheels with greenery for handlebars and bike frames.  The cleverness of the designs is not easily describable in words – these really are books you have to see to believe.  But of course they’re not meant to be believed – only to be enjoyed.  The absurd cleverness of the designs is delightful, and their apparently infinite variety is an ongoing pleasant surprise.  Check out the trucks made from squash and papayas, the fire engine of red peppers plus celery (and mushroom-cap wheels), the pear helicopter, the banana airplane, and much more – all of it engagingly yummy.

     To give the youngest children, up to age three, a chance to see and enjoy the Freymann/Elffers productions, two of their books from 2002 are now available in board-book format.  Baby Food and Fast Food lose none of their charm as board books.  They may even gain some, if that’s possible.  The banana dachshund puppy, plump yellow-pepper bunny, sweet-potato baby alligator, peanut owlet, kiwi baby monkey and other little ones somehow seem even more adorable when each fills a full page of the Baby Food board book.  And the expressiveness of the canines in Dog Food somehow seems even more amazing in this form: the “dog show” two-page spread, showing three pampered pooches happily watching a TV made from two mushrooms, is priceless, as are the apologetic “bad dog” (with stem “tail” between legs) and “sleeping dogs” (bananas).  You’ll never look at produce quite the same way after spending time with these books.  But parents should be forewarned about the books’ inspirational elements: clever kids may start insisting that you serve their fruits and vegetables in equally entertaining forms – or they may want to try doing a little fruit-and-vegetable sculpting themselves!

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