November 02, 2006


The Red Lemon. By Bob Staake. Golden Books. $14.95.

The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven. By Jonah Winter. Pictures by Barry Blitt. Schwartz & Wade. $15.95.

Alphabet Explosion! Search and Count from Alien to Zebra. By John Nickle. Schwartz & Wade. $16.95.

     There’s lots of fun with and about numbers in all three of these books – none of which is a counting book.  Maybe that’s their numerological secret.

     Bob Staake’s delicious The Red Lemon is about a farmer (his body drawn as a huge circle, his head as a smaller one, his nose a still smaller one) who grows hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of wonderful lemons (on trees shaped like huge circles on trunks).  “Bright yellow lemons for miles and miles!” exults Farmer McPhee, thinking of all the delicious things people can do with them: pie, sherbet, muffins, lemon chiffon cream cake, and other mouthwatering goodies.  But THEN…Farmer McPhee spots a single RED lemon.  Impossible!  Absurd!  Not to be tolerated!  He picks it, and the two pages describing his reactions are themselves drawn entirely in red.  The farmer tosses the lemon away, and it lands on a small island nearby – an island that, over time, attracts people and commerce, and on which red-lemon trees sprout “in a grove of near twenty.”  Furthermore, “if yellow lemons/ were always a treat,/ the red lemon versions/ were six times as sweet!”  It’s a delightful tale, told by the numbers – the most important being the number one, as in that one original “wrongly colored” red lemon.

     Numbers show up right in the title of The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven, which spins a silly fantasy around the fact that Beethoven did indeed live in 39 apartments in and around Vienna.  No one knows why he moved so often; no one knows much about the apartments; but it is known that Beethoven, growing increasingly deaf, pounded more and more loudly on the piano while composing – and since he owned five legless pianos, that pounding must have been very hard on the ears of the downstairs neighbors.  Jonah Winter takes the little that is known about Beethoven’s apartments and makes up reasons for his frequent moves: one had a hideous stinky cheese smell; one was palace-like, filled with light and air, but the neighbors kept telling the composer to shut up; one was tiny and in an attic, and a neighbor kept filing complaints with the local magistrate; and so on.  Winter also has fun with the idea of how Beethoven’s pianos were moved – Barry Blitt’s pictures are especially amusing in these scenes.  For instance, Winter suggests that one piano was lowered from a balcony, taken through the streets, pushed through a grand hall displaying suits of armor, then carried through a dentist’s office and through a hole in the wall of Beethoven’s next apartment.  The whole book is written in good fun – although Winter does take some things too far, since young readers probably will not know he is kidding when he says that Beethoven wrote 10 violin sonatas, two symphonies and a string quartet in a single day.

     Alphabet Explosion! is playful in a different way.  It’s a bit like those books that ask you to find hard-to-detect objects within a scattering of other items.  John Nickle creates silly juxtapositions of pictures, then invites readers to find, in each picture, a certain number of items beginning with a particular letter.  There are, for example, 25 G’s in a picture in which a giraffe plays a guitar while a goat gives a gift to a groundhog wearing a golf tee.  The number of objects varies quite a bit from letter to letter: 15 O’s, 47 S’s, 8 U’s, 7 Z’s.  Kids (and parents) who find their eyes glazing over as they search for all the objects, or who simply cannot locate as many as Nickle says are in a picture, can simply turn to the back of the book, where answers are thoughtfully provided.  This is an unusual, and unusually creative, approach to the alphabet – you can count on it.

No comments:

Post a Comment