December 28, 2006


My Buddy, Slug. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $15.95.

It’s Happy Bunny: The Good, the Bad, and the Bunny. By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $7.99.

Disney Cuties: Project: Bedroom. By Apple Jordan. Random House. $8.99.

     Cartoonish characters aren’t just for comic strips or animated cartoons anymore.  They seem to have crept, flown or sidled into everything.  In My Buddy, Slug, for example, Slug, who is a giant slug, has slimed into an otherwise ordinary tale of the pitfalls of friendship.  There’s nothing at all sluggish about Slug, which makes him (it?) an odd fit for Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s book about the wonders and perils of a best friend who sometimes stays just a little too close for comfort.  It seems there used to be three best friends – Alex, Kevin and Slug – until Kevin moved away, and now there are only Alex and Slug, who are together all the time.  This eventually proves too much for Alex, the book’s narrator, who finally tells his mother, “I’m sick of him!”  Slug overhears this and goes away, proceeding to go to school on his own, play basketball with other kids, and so on.  A lot of the illustrations are funny – Slug doing a slam-dunk in particular – but because Slug never does anything that an actual slug would do (no, not even leaving a trail of slime anywhere), he (it?) could just as well have been a salamander, eel or flying horse.  Krosoczka has a nice story about friendship to tell, but Slug doesn’t quite fit into it.

     Happy Bunny fits pretty much anywhere.  This bad-boy, cute-as-a-button rabbit undertakes to explore the difference between good and evil in The Good, the Bad, and the Bunny, Jim Benton’s latest use (or misuse) of an adorable-looking character who constantly plays against his apparent type.  This is, as usual, funny in a juvenile way – Benton really could do with fewer odor jokes – and is at its best when the simply drawn, sweet-looking Happy Bunny is at his most cynical: “Faking it is a great way to show that you care enough to lie.”  And “nobody is perfect – and by ‘nobody,’ of course I mean ‘nobody else.’”  Some parts of this little book are a lot of fun, such as the good-bad-or-bunny examples.  In one, you hold a door for someone who does not thank you.  The good thing to do is just let it go; the bad thing is to slam the ingrate’s head in the door; the bunny thing is to say you saw the ungrateful one drop money outside – so when he or she goes back out to look for it, you can lock the door.  Unfortunately, not everything here is equally amusing.  But the contrast between Happy Bunny’s adorable appearance and some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth is still effective in a twisted way.

     And then there are characters that are cute as a button, or two buttons, and always do only cute and helpful things.  Happy Bunny is an antidote to such characters – but if you prefer the characters themselves, and are not afraid you will sweeten yourself to death, you will enjoy the Disney Cuties series, of which a typical example is Project: Bedroom.  This is a help-you-redecorate book, featuring miniature Mickey and Minnie Mouse and other characters – drawn in such a simple style that Happy Bunny looks positively complex by comparison.  Officially intended for ages six and up, the series will probably appeal mostly to kids just becoming familiar with Disney characters – perhaps around age three.  In Project: Bedroom, there are quizzes to help you decide what sort of room you would like, suggestions on using mirrors and paint colors and other elements of decorating, and some cute window clings and wall stencils for participatory refurbishing.  The ideas themselves are often quite good – set up a cozy reading nook, have a decorating party, and so on – but they will be effective only for kids who embrace the utterly vapid look of the Disney-derived characters presenting them.

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