August 10, 2006


Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z. By Lois Ehlert. Harcourt. $10.95.

Regarding the Bathrooms: A Privy to the Past. By Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Harcourt. $15.

     Here are two wonderful looks at things involved in different rooms of the house – aimed at different ages, created in ways that are different as can be, and both thoroughly delightful.

     Eating the Alphabet is an oversize board book for kids up to age three.  It’s a delicious look by the ever-wonderful Lois Ehlert at things you probably have in your kitchen, or should consider trying if you haven’t done so yet.  This is a book in which A is not only for the traditional apple but also for artichoke, asparagus and more; B is not just for banana but for bean, beet and broccoli; and so on.  As always, Ehlert’s illustrations beautifully complement her well-chosen text.  How many alphabet books would think of having C stand for currant, E for endive, H for huckleberry, N for nectarine, S for Swiss chard?  Ehlert does not stretch her cleverness too far: some letters have only a single example (D for date, Q for quince).  But some letters get a cornucopia of produce: there are 12 examples for P, covering four pages.  And yes, there is an example for X: xigua, a type of watermelon.  Ehlert’s original version of this book dates back to 1989 and has lost none of its charm.  The new board-book version, filled with delectable colors and pages that can even survive being gummed (briefly), is well made, highly attractive and probably worth using for occasional meal planning.  Okra, jicama, kumquats and radicchio, anyone?

     The Klise sisters’ latest water-related romp, Regarding the Bathrooms, has none of Ehlert’s simplicity and elegance, and needs none.  This is a book for a very different group of readers – ages 9-12 – and it gives the Klises plenty of chances for poop jokes, atrocious puns and the usual craziness that is an everyday occurrence at Geyser Creek Middle School.  The previous three “Regarding” books – on the fountain, the sink and the trees – are excellent preparation for this one, although you don’t really need to have read any of them to enjoy this bathroom book.  The story is told through letters and ads and doodles and logos and pages from “The Geyser Creek Gazette” and drawings made to look like photos.  It involves Roman baths and Bath, England; a sheriff named Mack Rell and fountain designer Flo Waters; an international criminal investigation of nefarious crooks who were captured in an earlier book but have now escaped; an inquiry into how Jawlseedat Mountain got its name; and much more.  What’s the plot?  A better question would be: what are the plots?  As in the other Klise “water” books, this one jumps from place to place and plot to plot with abandon, until everything is neatly pulled together at the end: the mountain, the corrupt policeman, the escaped prisoners, the graffiti-filled bathrooms, and the promise of the next book, which will be called Regarding the Bees.  Bee there.  But first be here.

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