July 13, 2006

(+++) BEACHED!

Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-ha-ha! By Barbara Park. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Random House. $11.95.

Where Did Daddy’s Hair Go? By Joe O’Connor. Illustrated by Henry Payne. Random House. $14.95.

     Ah, beach season.  The things you can do!  You can get in trouble, take bad pictures, make a lot of noise, get a bird caught in your hair – and if that’s not what you do at the beach, that proves only that you are not Junie B. Jones.  The irrepressible (and, in her latest book, irrepressibly loud) first-grader heads to Hawaii in Aloha-ha-ha!  This 26th Junie B. adventure revolves around the camera that Mr. Scary gives Junie so she can take vacation photos.  It’s a film camera, which makes things difficult for Junie when she just can’t seem to get good pictures of anything, including herself.  You might expect the camera to be a digital one, now that digitals are increasingly common, very inexpensive and highly useful for discarding bad photos so no one but you ever sees them.  But that would defeat Barbara Park’s purpose here, and would deprive Denise Brunkus of the chance to display a whole gallery of photos, from the ridiculous to the sort-of-cute, at the end of the book.  The story is filled with typical Junie B. misadventures, but the heroine is a bit shriller and more irritating this time than she usually is.  She is also more preoccupied with yelling “911” whenever something goes wrong.  She gets stuck in a parrot-shaped pool float and yells, in capital letters, “I’M STUCK IN MY PARROT! 911! I’M STUCK IN MY PARROT!”  She sees an eel while swimming in the ocean and yells, “AN EEL! AN EEL! I SPOTTED AN EEL! 911! 911!!”  A bird gets too close for comfort, and she yells, “BIRD! BIRD! 911! 911! BIRD! BIRD! BIRD!”  A little of this goes a long way, but Park provides a lot of it – and although everything ends happily, as it always does for Junie B., the first-grader is a bit less endearing here than in most of her books.

     The Junie B. stories are for ages 7-10, while Where Did Daddy’s Hair Go? is for ages 5-8, but Joe O’Connor’s young hero, Jeremiah Jensen, has more wide-eyed charm around his home than Junie B. has while visiting Hawaii.  Jeremiah hears someone call his father “Baldy,” and starts wondering why his dad doesn’t have much hair – and where the hair went.  Later, he hears his father saying something about losing his hair, so Jeremiah starts a search for the missing follicles – through closets, cupboards, drawers, bathtub, garage, even the toilet.  He looks inside the house and outside, with no luck, and then starts wondering if other things also lose their hair – leading to a series of off-kilter imaginings.  Some of this gets a little too cute for its own good: O’Connor, who is bald, is obviously celebrating his condition, while illustrator Henry Payne, who has plenty of hair, revels in pictures showing Jeremiah imagining what his dad would look like with hair.  The book gets a touch message-heavy when Jeremiah asks how his father felt about losing his hair, and his dad replies, “It’s who you are on the inside that really counts.”  But then the family goes to the beach – that place where everyone sees more of everyone else than is, strictly speaking, really necessary – and Jeremiah for the first time notices how different people look in terms of shape, weight, color and, yes, hair.  So he decides that he doesn’t have to search for his dad’s hair anymore, because his father is perfect as is – a pleasant conclusion to a pleasantly amusing book.

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