April 12, 2007


Diego. Concept and illustrations by Jeanette Winter. Text by Jonah Winter, translated into Spanish by Amy Prince. Knopf. $15.99.

The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds. By Maxwell Eaton III. Knopf. $12.99.

Clancy, The Courageous Cow. By Lachie Hume. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

      Short books for young children can teach small lessons or big ones – or big ones that only seem small. Diego teaches on many levels, none of them overt. A beautifully illustrated, straightforwardly written book about a young Mexican boy named Diego – with text on each page in both English and Spanish – it tells the story of Diego Rivera, one of the world’s great artists and arguably Mexico’s greatest. There is nothing at all preachy about the story, which begins in Diego’s birth village, where his twin brother died before the age of two and where Diego himself soon fell ill. The book tells of the Indian healer with whom Diego went to live, of his life with her in the mountains, and of his growing fascination with animals and nature. And then, bit by bit, it shows him becoming an artist, until at the end he is painting, all around Mexico, the huge murals for which he became world-famous. Attractive simply as a short, bilingual biography, Diego also carries with it some important life lessons about persevering through hardship, discovering what matters to you, and finding a way to follow your dream.

      All Max and Pinky dream about is having fun together (well, Pinky also dreams about marshmallows). Best Buds is all about the everyday adventures that bald-headed Max and Pinky the pig have, sometimes together and sometimes separately – but especially on Saturday, when they are always together and doing something special. Until one Saturday, that is. On that day, Max can’t find Pinky anywhere, and imagines him lost in the woods or (in the funniest of Maxwell Eaton III’s many funny pictures) carried away by bunnies. Then Max, by looking closely at the rear end of an amusingly drawn polar bear that has somehow wandered into the story, gets an idea of where Pinky may be. Hint: marshmallows are involved. A simple story of friends having fun apart but, even more enjoyably, together, Best Buds offers the youngest readers a pleasant lesson in the ups and downs – mostly ups – of close friendship.

      Clancy, The Courageous Cow has one lesson practically built into its title: it is about courage. Lachie Hume’s first book is on the strange side – for one thing, Clancy is a bull, not a cow, as the story line makes clear – but its heart is very much in the right place. It’s about being different, and having the courage to stand up for yourself if you are. Clancy is a Belted Galloway, but he was born beltless – he is solid black – and so he has never quite fit in. And the Belted Galloways have problems: every year, one them wrestles the champion of the Herefords to decide which herd gets the best grass; and every year, the Herefords win, which means they get the best grass, which means they grow even stronger, which means they win the next year, too. But Clancy, being black and beltless, is hard to see at night, so he sneaks into the Herefords’ field and eats high-quality grass, grows bigger and stronger than any other Belted Galloway, and gets a chance to prove that the belt isn’t what makes the Galloway. And there’s more: he meets a Hereford whose coloration doesn’t fit into her herd, so after Clancy proves his wrestling prowess, there is a we’re-all-in-this-together ending that produces one mighty strange-looking calf. Told very amusingly, and with silly illustrations that often repeal the laws of perspective, Clancy, The Courageous Cow is simply packed with lessons about tolerance and the advantages of being different – but it is written with such a light touch that kids can simply enjoy the story for its own sake. And that’s fine, too.

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