March 08, 2007


Junie B., First Grader: Dumb Bunny. By Barbara Park. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Random House. $11.99.

Duck, Duck, Goose. By Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade. $15.99.

      Some series hit their stride quickly; others take a while. The ever-so-long-lasting tales of Junie B. Jones – 17 about her as a kindergartner and 10 about her in first grade, including this brand-new volume – are staying funny; but they are showing more character development, and indeed more character, the longer Barbara Park spends writing them. Denise Brunkus’ illustrations have been top-notch from the very start, and continue to be a major attraction of the books: check out Junie B.’s expression in the picture showing her with her hand in a bag of jellybeans, or simply on the cover of the latest book, to see why. But Park’s plotting is steadily improving. Now Junie B. is not just a pile of insecurities and jealousies – she is a pile of insecurities, jealousies and do-the-right-thing impulses. That makes a difference. The latest book starts with Junie B. in trouble because she calls her perpetual enemy, May, a “dumb bunny,” and then she thinks about May as a dumb bunny – “loudly” enough so May complains to their teacher, Mr. Scary, and everyone gets in varying degrees of trouble. That’s a standard-issue Junie B. scene. But as the book develops – the plot involves an Easter party at the huge home of rich Lucille – Junie B. develops with it. The way she ends up in an Easter Bunny costume is funny, and the way she handles the egg hunt is funnier still. But the way she eventually does a good deed for a friend, while getting back at May at the same time, is genuinely clever. As Junie B.’s original fans get older, the character is developing along with them – a very nice touch indeed on Park’s part.

      Duck, Duck, Goose is really the start of a series: it is the sequel to Tad Hills’ wonderful Duck & Goose, and it points the way toward additional volumes in the future. Duck & Goose was a funny and touching friendship story. Duck, Duck, Goose puts the friendship to the test by introducing a third, very pushy character named Thistle. Hills makes all his characters look endearing, but Thistle is cutest of all – in appearance. She is also hyper-competitive and very demanding. She turns all the relaxing, easygoing time that Duck and Goose usually spend together into win-or-lose situations. Goose is happy when a butterfly lands on his head, so Thistle first asks if it was a moth and then says she once had three butterflies on her head. She insists on doing math problems while splashing Goose, and demands a breath-holding contest, and leads a race to the top of the hill – and after a while, Goose has had enough and goes off to, quite literally, smell the flowers for a while. Duck realizes that he misses quiet time with Goose, and the two reconnect – only to be interrupted again by the ever-pushy Thistle. But this time Duck and Goose find a way – a kind way – to have some “alone time” while letting Thistle win yet another competition. It is a clever solution to a problem that many young friends face when someone new intrudes. Even more important, it is a gentle solution, leaving open the possibility that Thistle will become mellower. Perhaps in Hills’ next book?

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