April 27, 2006


The Night Pirates. By Peter Harris. Illustrated by Deborah Allwright. Scholastic. $16.99.

Princess Penelope Takes Charge! By Todd Mack. Illustrated by Julia Gran. Scholastic. $16.99.

     Kids ages 3-7 are big dreamers – but, alas for those dreams, young children are physically confined to home and nearby areas most of the time.  Where’s the adventure in that?

     The answer can lie in books – when they are as delightful as these two.  The Night Pirates is a great example of an adventure book for the child at home, because that’s exactly what the story is: it’s about a young boy named Tom, who is in his bed at home one night when PIRATES come stealthily down the street.  But not just any pirates!  These are “rough, tough little girl pirates with their own pirate ship,” which they plan to disguise by stealing the front of Tom’s house and using it for camouflage.  This is a wonderfully absurd setup for a marvelous adventure tale: Tom asks if he can go along, the girl captain welcomes him, and the pirate band sets sail in search of a treasure chest held by Captain Patch and “his rough, tough, grown-up pirates.”  Of course, Patch has never seen anything like the girls’ ship before: he thinks a house is sailing toward him.  By the time he and his low-down crew realize what’s happening, the girls and Tom have the treasure and have set sail for Tom’s town to return the front of the house – which, however, they re-set in a rather unusual way.  This is a great book to read as a bedtime story or anytime, thanks partly to the inspired silliness of Peter Harris’ storytelling and partly to the wonderful Deborah Allwright illustrations.  There’s one requiring you to turn the book sideways, and there are plenty that enhance the absurdities of the story, showing the house/boat sailing or Captain Patch breathing fire or his pirates running away in fright and climbing trees as the girl pirates attack.  What a romp!

     Princess Penelope Takes Charge! takes a commonplace story – the arrival of a new baby – and turns it into an adventure that kids experience right at home.  Penelope has absolutely everything, but what she wants most of all is to be a big sister.  When her mom gets pregnant, Penelope is ecstatic – she can’t wait, and keeps asking when her new baby sister will arrive.  But the baby turns out to be a boy, and horrified Penelope starts comparing baby Dexter unfavorably with Penelope’s favorite doll, Marigold.  After all, Dexter doesn’t have hair and can’t play dress-up or dance or sing or do ANYTHING that’s fun.  But, largely unnoticed by Penelope, Dexter starts to grow, and he gets hair “the same color as hers,” and Penelope begins to help out – and to play with Dexter, too, “even if Dexter didn’t always ENJOY playing with Penelope.”  Although Todd Mack’s story has a veneer of fantasy, its underlying realistic theme keeps coming through, as when Penelope watches Dexter so their mom can take a shower, and Penelope insists on dressing Dexter up and putting bows in his hair even though he clearly (and loudly) disapproves.  Julia Gran’s illustrations capture Penelope’s and Dexter’s moods very well, and the book’s message – that Penelope loves being a big sister despite her initial uncertainty – is one that may help many families through the difficult period of adjustment that is inevitable when a family gets bigger.

No comments:

Post a Comment