January 03, 2008

(++++) SO CUTE!

Star Von Bunny: A Model Tale. By Kym Canter. Design and illustrations by Ellen Kahn. HarperEntertainment. $19.95.

When Randolph Turned Rotten. By Charise Mericle Harper. Knopf. $16.99.

      Stories about cute little animals can be loads of fun for adults and children alike – but in very different ways. It often seems that there is more to be learned when the animals appear in kids’ books, and more sheer enjoyment when they show up in books for adults. Star Von Bunny is nothing but enjoyment. It’s essentially a one-joke book, but it spins that joke out very well and explores it from just about every possible angle. The bunny of the title is, we are told (this is the real-world backstory), a stuffed toy picked up 19 years ago at a Hallmark store by author Kym Canter – who also happens to be the director of the J Mendel fashion line. According to the book, Star Von Bunny is now an m.a.w. (that’s “model/actress/whatever”), offering her very own biography interlaced with tips and suggestions for other aspiring models. The one joke, of course, is stuffed-bunny-as-fashion-model, and even if the book reeks of cynicism in its presentation, readers willing to abandon cynical thinking themselves will have loads of fun with it. Consider Star’s very own backstory, which includes 10 white lies, among them “I never shop, but I always have great clothes” and “I couldn’t care less about celebrity.” Then follow Star into the world of agents, and find out some real-world things about composite cards and the need to “lose half an inch around my middle,” while observing Star doing yoga and appearing in test shots that are “silly, sensual, slutty, soft, sad, and sexy.” The whole rags-to-riches story (well, Star sort of remains a rag, or at least a rag doll, but you get the idea) is made enjoyable by its insouciance, featuring photos of Star with human models and offering offbeat but accurate insight into the rarefied world of the supermodel (one section is called “Star Von Bunny’s Backstage Guide, or How to Kiss and Kiss Up, Model Style,” and it is spot-on). There are some really cute jokes along the way (Star visits the Hollywood sidewalk star belonging to her idol: Hugh Hefner); and seeing Star on a date with a smaller, brown stuffed bunny is just too much. Actually, Star Von Bunny itself is a bit too much, but its good humor and tell-some (if not tell-all) approach to modeling make it a delightful, if ultimately meaningless, foray into animal cuteness.

      When Randolph Turned Rotten has much more to teach, probably because it’s directed at kids ages 5-8 – the pre-cynicism age (at least for most). Randolph, a beaver, lives with his best friend, Ivy (a goose), and they do everything together and always get along well – until Ivy is invited to a girls-only sleepover, and Randolph gradually becomes more and more jealous. In fact, as Charise Mericle Harper shows, what he is really feeling is hurt, and that leads him to want to hurt Ivy by spoiling her fun. The page on which “Best Friend Randolph” with his “rainbow-filled-with-love insides” is transformed into “Nasty Randolph” with his “stinky, rotten insides” is hilarious – and a teachable moment if there ever was one. Randolph decides to sabotage Ivy’s good time by giving her all the wrong equipment to take to the sleepover. But lo and behold, when something goes wrong at the party, all the unnecessary things that Ivy has brought turn out to be just what the girls need – and Randolph, entirely unintentionally, saves the day. Randolph’s deception is never formally uncovered (Ivy acts as if she thinks he was mistaken, not mean, in equipping her as he did); but Harper is clever enough to leave the question of what Ivy knew and didn’t know for kids and their parents to discuss. And the lesson of friendship is well and cutely learned.

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