January 03, 2008


It’s Happy Bunny: I (Heart) Me Valentines. By Jim Benton. Scholastic. $7.99.

Chocolatina. By Erik Kraft. Illustrated by Denise Brunkus. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

      If you’re already looking forward to Valentine’s Day 2008, here are two books to take you a little away from the loving spirit of the holiday. Jim Benton’s Happy Bunny is, of course, snippy about everything, including any day devoted to (ugh) hearts and flowers and sweetness and light. The 32 small tear-out Valentine’s Day cards in the latest Happy Bunny book are just what you would expect from this cute-character-gone-wrong: “Wow! You’re icky! Would some candy make you feel better about that?” “I think you’re the best. (The best I can do for now.)” “Let’s be friends. We’ll be the kind of friends who throw up a little every time we see each other.” “I know how you feel. I love me, too!” Okay, there is something a little lovable about Happy Bunny (lovably awful, anyway); but this book is unfortunately a bit of a ripoff. In addition to the small cards, it contains a single page of 36 Happy Bunny stickers (which have no words on them except Jim Benton’s copyright), plus a whole bunch of blank pages of “origami paper” that you will supposedly use to make envelopes for the cards. In other words, most of what you are getting here is blank pages. Is that a gift that keeps on giving? Is it worth $7.99? Maybe in Happy Bunnyland…but what about in your land?

      Even Happy Bunny acknowledges, in his own twisted way, that Valentine’s Day is a big time for chocolate. So maybe you’d like to give (or receive) Chocolatina, which is about a girl who likes the sweet stuff a little too much. She resembles a slightly more grown-up Junie B. Jones, which is not surprising: Denise Brunkus is the longtime illustrator of the Junie B. books. Erik Kraft’s story of Chocolatina is whimsical and should be just offbeat enough for people who are not quite as cynical about Valentine’s Day as the Happy Bunny types. Tina – the girl’s real name – is nicknamed Chocolatina because she adores chocolate and eats it at every opportunity. Unfortunately for her, she has a really nasty health teacher named Mrs. Ferdman who “hated chocolate and everything else that children liked.” On special occasions, Mrs. Ferdman gives out prunes. Mrs. Ferdman continually warns the kids that they are what they eat, and Chocolatina wishes that could really be so, and then she gets her wish and really turns into chocolate, and then nothing goes the way she thought it would, and then she un-wishes her chocolatey self – but not before Mrs. Ferdman gets her entirely appropriate comeuppance. Chocolatina is more silly than sweet, but kids who love chocolate – as well as ones who have some other favorite food of which certain crabby old adults disapprove – will likely find it quite tasty. Except for the included page of scratch-and-sniff stickers: no chocolate lover will be fooled by them, even for a moment.

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