September 04, 2008


A Dinosaur Called Tiny. By Alan Durant. Illustrated by Jo Simpson. HarperCollins. $16.99.

Fly Guy #6: Hooray for Fly Guy! By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Charming Ponies: A Pony Legend. By Lois K. Szymanski. HarperFestival. $4.99.

My Weird School Daze: #1, Mrs. Dole Is Out of Control!; #2: Mr. Sunny Is Funny! By Dan Gutman. HarperTrophy. $3.99 each.

     Small characters having big adventures can be a real treat for young readers. A Dinosaur Called Tiny uses that formula very well. It is simply the story of a dinosaur born unusually small – and who never gets much larger. So of course the bigger dinosaurs won’t play with him – although he does make friends with a helpful bird who is also quite small. Then comes a crisis, and Tiny’s size is what lets him become a “pint-sized prehistoric hero” and decide that he likes being as small as he is. There is nothing particularly unusual about Alan Durant’s story or about its implied lesson – that everyone is important and should appreciate who he or she is. Jo Simpson’s amusing illustrations help raise the book’s level of fun, though. Kids ages 4-8 will enjoy it.

     They will also have fun with Tedd Arnold’s sixth Fly Guy adventure, Hooray for Fly Guy! Arnold always manages something slightly offbeat in his plots, and his drawings of Fly Guy (the pet of a boy named Buzz), showing the fly with huge eyes and a look of perception (if not overwhelming intelligence), are a big attraction of these books. In this one, Buzz is on the school football team, and Fly Guy wants to join, too, but of course he cannot kick the ball, catch it or tackle anyone. He becomes a sort of team mascot – and here, too, his small size and special abilities end up saving the day for the team. However, this wouldn’t be a Fly Guy book if there weren’t something faintly disgusting about what those special abilities are and how Fly Guy uses them. Let’s just say that Fly Guy and Buzz come up with a winning play that is nothing at which to turn up your nose. Or maybe it is something at which to turn up your nose….

     For slightly older readers, ages 7-10 – particularly for girls – the Charming Ponies series is enjoyable, easy to read and a nice exercise in wish fulfillment for kids who love horses but just can’t have one in real life. Each book comes with a pony charm – including the gold-colored one on a chain supplied with A Pony Legend. The story in the book is simple, and typical of the series. A girl named Meg has a very special, very beautiful white pony named Azure, with blue eyes. Since Azure was born, magic seems to have come to the valley where Meg lives. And there is a legend there about a great white stallion living high in the mountains. Could Azure be the stallion’s son? Could that explain why Azure seems able to feel Meg’s emotions and almost read her mind? And if the legend is true, what is the destiny of Azure and the girl who loves him?

     Back in the real world (or the realer one, anyway), the destiny of kids ages 7-10 is school. But not school the way Dan Gutman writes about it in My Weird School Daze. This series of paperbacks, featuring a boy named A.J., picks up on the popularity of similar books about weird and offbeat teachers, administrators and students – the whole “Teacher from the Black Lagoon” thing. In the first book – Mrs. Dole Is Out of Control! – the second-graders are about to move into third grade, but the president of the PTA (that would be Mrs. Dole) wants to turn the moving-up ceremony into a big, BIG deal, complete with a petting zoo, fireworks display and Blue Angels flyover. Mrs. Dole is given to pronouncements such as, “This flame represents the eternal quest for knowledge that will forever burn within you.” Out of control, indeed – even former President Clinton shows up. And then things start to go wrong. Really wrong…. And then there’s the second book – Mr. Sunny Is Funny! – which is about a lifeguard who is “brave and handsome, and he’s an artistic genius” because he “leans his cheek on his hand.” This is a sure sign that someone has a crush on him (ewwww); that someone is Andrea, whose family has rented the beach house next to the one being rented by A.J. and his family. The lifeguard is Mr. Sunny, who turns out to have a secret and a problem – but what gets really interesting is the appearance, quite out of the blue (sky, that is), of someone who will soon be A.J.’s and his friends’ third-grade teacher. My Weird School Daze is silly, harmless fun, and may even make the everyday school daze easier to take.

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