December 07, 2006


Mommy? Art by Maurice Sendak. Scenario by Arthur Yorinks. Paper engineering by Matthew Reinhart. Michael di Capua/Scholastic. $24.95.

How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors? By Jane Yolen & Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $6.99.

How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? By Jane Yolen & Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $6.99.

The Baby-Sitters Club #2: The Truth about Stacey. By Ann M. Martin. Adapted and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier. Graphix/Scholastic. $8.99.

     There are some books that you buy simply to look at, not to read.  Adults know this phenomenon: that’s what coffee-table books are all about.  For the youngest kids, books of pictures can be a first experience with books of any sort.  But what about kids’ books whose primary reason for being is their outstanding appearance, not their verbal contents?  Those are much rarer, and Mommy? is so rare that it is just about one of a kind.  This is the first pop-up book by Maurice Sendak – a fact that apparently justifies its inordinately high price and its shrink wrapping (which means you cannot look through it before buying it, unless the store helpfully has a copy on display).  This is one of those books that you buy as an extravagance – and how about that!  We are right in the season of buying gifts as extravagances!  But because this book uses Maurice Sendak’s art, don’t expect anything seasonally appropriate – unless the season is Halloween time.  The book is chock-full of ghosties and ghoulies and all those sorts of things…and it is utterly charming and completely captivating.  Think about the one-word title.  What we have here is a little boy who opens what appears to be the door of the wrongest possible house as he searches for his mother.  From room to room he wanders, startling a vampire, a wolfman, a Frankenstein’s monster and more, saying the single word “Mommy?” over and over.  At the end, with a bit of paper engineering even more remarkable than the startling foldouts that have come before, he finds – well, let’s just say this ends happily.  And very Sendak-ly.

     There’s a special style of its own to the How Do Dinosaurs…? series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.  In these books, misbehaving kids are shown as realistically drawn dinosaurs (although their parents and playmates are drawn as humans) – the visual point being that children’s misbehavior looms large.  That’s not a point that children themselves will get from these books – they’ll simply have a great time watching dinos ride tricycles, play on see-saws, chase balls and much more.  How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors? and How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends? are board-book entries in this series, and they’re as visually striking as can be.  Yolen and Teague fill them with little bits of amusement that parents will love, as when the page “white chalk marks on an old black slate” shows a dinosaur holding a blackboard bearing its name, Polacanthus.  The “colors” book simply shows colored objects used by the dinos, with each color printed in itself (the word “blue” in blue type, for example).  The mischief here is mild but, as always, very funny – check out the dino with the yellow banana, blithely tossing the skin away.  In the “friends” book, misbehavior is more pronounced, shown clearly (and amusingly) above admonitory text in these books' usual “question” format – here, about whether a dinosaur does certain things when a friend visits: “Does he hide all his dump trucks, refusing to share? Does he throw his friends’ coloring books in the air?”  The images are so funny that the later-in-the-book message about proper behavior goes down much more easily.  And that, of course, is exactly the point.

     The friends in Ann Martin’s popular Baby-Sitters Club series are older – seventh graders – but their problems come across well in illustrated form, too.  Raina Telgemeier has done a fine job turning The Truth about Stacey into a graphic novel – having already done well with Kristy’s Great Idea, the first of these graphic novelizations.  The Truth about Stacey features two intertwined stories: Stacey’s problems with her parents as they seek better treatment for her diabetes, without consulting her; and the entire club’s problem with a new club of sitters set up by older girls who are quite irresponsible – but whom parents favor because they seem to be more grown-up.  Everything works out well in the end, and in truth, this is a story-driven book as much as a picture-driven one, since its plot comes from Martin’s original work.  But the pictures can make this story appealing to visually oriented girls who have not read Martin’s many books.  Most of the drawings are simple and straightforward, but a few – such as ones in a candy store – are attractively elaborate, and some are appropriately dark when characters are angry or sad.  This graphic-novel series is worth looking at and reading.

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