October 19, 2006


Ruff! Ruff! Where’s Scruff? Written by Sarah Weeks. Illustrations and paper engineering by David A. Carter. Harcourt. $13.95.

My Little Yellow Taxi. By Stephen A. Johnson. Red Wagon/Harcourt. $19.95.

     Participatory books for young children are some of the most cleverly designed in the business.  It often seems that the younger the target audience, the greater the effort made to reach it.  When the attempt works, as it does in both these books, the result is pure enjoyment – for children and parents alike.

     Ruff! Ruff! Where’s Scruff? is accurately subtitled, “A Lift-the-Flap Pop-up Adventure,” which means its movable pages make things happen in several directions.  Sarah Weeks keeps the story very simple, as she should for the target age range of 2-5.  But David A. Carter’s paper work is extraordinarily complicated – not in use (kids will find it extremely easy to use), but in design.  This is the second collaboration of Weeks and Carter, and is even cleverer than Who’s Under That Hat?  This time, Weeks starts by explaining that Scruff has just rolled in mud, “so now I have to clean him.”  But Scruff can’t be found.  He must be somewhere, but where?  The narrator asks cows, pigs, sheep, ducks and rabbits if they have seen Scruff, but all the animals say no.  Kids will know better – the joy of discovery, of finding something that the book’s narrator does not know about, is a big part of the charm here.  Whenever a child lifts a flap – opening the door to the pigs’ sleeping area, for example, or moving aside the heads of lettuce where the rabbits are hiding – Scruff pops up somewhere.  The dog’s location is not always obvious – it’s lots of fun for a young child to say “there he is!”  But a little looking always reveals Scruff’s hiding place – until, at the end, the narrator gives up, and the reader lifts a flap shaped like a bale of hay to reveal Scruff right where he should be: in the bath.  This is a great read-to-me book for young children, and one in which it is really fun to participate

     My Little Yellow Taxi takes participation to an entirely more complex level.  Intended for ages 3-7, it is Stephen A. Johnson’s third book of building, fixing up, and high-level creativity in high-strength cardboard.  Like My Little Red Toolbox and My Little Blue Robot, Johnson’s new book is a study in interactivity.  My Little Yellow Taxi – which, by the way, actually contains a removable taxi of the famous but now discontinued Checker Cab type – offers a series of interactive features related to getting a taxi ready to go on the road.  Among the 16 play-along elements are such operational items as putting gas in the tank (without having to worry about the cost of fuel!) and checking the oil, plus such comfort-and-convenience items as adjusting the rear-view mirror and opening and closing the door.  It’s hard to explain what Johnson’s books are – they lie somewhere between pop-ups and construction projects.  Whatever you decide to call them, they are very well illustrated (the detailing of the taxi is impressive, and so is the detailing of every individual part), very sturdy, and very capable of standing up to the repeated uses to which they will undoubtedly be subjected.

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