January 25, 2007


The Dog: Why Are Dogs’ Noses Wet? And Other True Facts. By Howie Dewin. Scholastic. $3.99.

The Dog: Is a Paw a Foot? By Kris Hirschmann. Scholastic. $3.99.

Ghosthunters No. 3: Ghosthunters and the Totally Moldy Baroness! By Cornelia Funke. Chicken House/Scholastic. $4.99.

Rainbow Magic: The Weather Fairies. No. 6: Storm the Lightning Fairy. By Daisy Meadows. Little Apple/Scholastic. $4.99.

     Books need not be weighty to be fun.  Sometimes it helps if they are not weighty, if they are trying to get kids interested in facts rather than escapism.  Take the case of the instructive canines in The Dog: Why Are Dogs’ Noses Wet? and The Dog: Is a Paw a Foot?  These brief paperbacks from Scholastic’s “Artlist Collection,” one about dogs’ physiology and the other about measurement, use a wide variety of adorable puppies and dogs to explain (in Noses) why dogs drool and why they howl at the moon (or seem to); and (in Paw) to discuss smaller vs. bigger, longer vs. shorter, and other elements of measuring things.  Although neither book runs more than 32 pages, there is room for humor: “You might not think a dog whistle makes noise, but we think they sound like the inside of a tuba!”  And: “Is it better to be long or short?  It depends.  A long leash is always better than a short one.  But short toenails are definitely the way to go.”  Most of the subject matter in the books is serious, but it is kept interesting by having it presented from a dog’s viewpoint.  Thus, from Noses, “Ears…do a lot more than just listen.  We dogs use our ears to talk, too.”  And from Paw: “We dogs think that standard measurement units make lots of sense.”  Even in Paw, there are dog facts in addition to measurement information, with the two cleverly interrelated, as in an explanation of what the Iditarod race is and how far dogs pull a sled during it.  In both books, the basic information is simple and factual, but the dogs make it special – and interesting.

     Sometimes, of course, short books are brief simply because they are light reading, and do not need many pages to tell a story.  Cornelia Funke’s Ghosthunters series is a cut above many silly sequences because Funke writes so well, but even as the books start to become somewhat standardized – which is what happens in the third entry, on the Totally Moldy Baroness Ghosthunters remains paced cleverly enough to make a fast read fun.  By now, these books have settled into a pattern, as ghosthunters Hetty Hunter and Tom, aided by a helpful ghost called Hugo, answer someone’s call for assistance and find themselves battling a ghost that is described by various acronyms.  In this book, the bad Baroness is a GHADAP (GHost with A DArk Past), a subspecies of HIGA (HIstorical Ghostly Apparition), and of course is difficult to defeat, and of course is defeated.  It’s all done quickly and amusingly, with a touch of scariness here and there.

     Even quicker are the seven books of The Weather Fairies series, the newest being the sixth, Storm the Lightning Fairy.  The thin plot has friends Rachel and Kirsty helping fairies recover their lost magical objects – feathers from a weathervane – which have been stolen by Jack Frost in the usual bid for power and mischief.  Actually, it’s Jack’s goblins that do the thieving, and they’re much better at getting the fairies’ power sources than at using them (they always mess things up) or holding onto them (Kirsty and Rachel always outthink them).  After the girls help Storm, they are warned that Jack Frost himself will come if they keep outwitting his goblins – so there’s the plot of the upcoming final book in this easy-to-read series.

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