June 04, 2009


Being a Pig Is Nice: A Child’s-Eye View of Manners. By Sally Lloyd-Jones. Drawn by Dan Krall. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Ocean’s Child. By Christine Ford and Trish Holland. Illustrated by David Diaz. Golden Books. $15.99.

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Lizard’s Legacy; Clash with the Rhino; Spider-Man versus Electro; Spider-Man versus Kraven. HarperFestival: $4.99 (Lizard); $3.99 (Rhino). HarperTrophy: $3.99 each (Electro; Kraven).

     The drawings add immeasurably to the appeal of all these books – but wow, are they different! Dan Krall’s pictures for Being a Pig Is Nice clearly show the influence of Cartoon Network, where Krall has worked on a number of shows. In fact, the little girl who roams through the book, thinking of all the great animals she could be so she wouldn’t have to deal with etiquette, looks a lot like the annoying sister, Dee Dee, on Dexter’s Laboratory, which is one show in which Krall has participated. Unlike that program, though, Being a Pig Is Nice is a “message” book – albeit a decidedly soft-pedaled one. The message, of course, is that it’s good to have manners; and Sally Lloyd-Jones makes that clear not by preaching but by having the girl discover it for herself. Krall’s hilarious pictures show a scrubbed, dressed-up pig being looked down upon as Very Rude because “you have to get muddy or you get in trouble.” But then the girl realizes that “when you’re a pig you smell and that’s not nice.” So how about being a snail, which has to “dawdle and crawl and trail behind and not keep up with the others”? But then you are slimy – again, not nice. And so it goes with the elephant that has to “squirt and splatter everyone and be very naughty in your bath,” and the monkey that must eat with fingers, “sit up crooked, elbows in [mom’s] face, fingers up your nose,” and so on. Each time the girl thinks of all the neat, unmannerly things she could be and do, she finds a flaw in her own idea – but what about being a monster? Now there’s a thought – which leads to a rather monstrous definition of manners that will have kids laughing at the end of the book (but that parents won’t want them to emulate!).

     The pictures in Ocean’s Child, a sweet and loving bedtime book, are also a key to the work’s attractiveness; but their purpose is to lull, not excite. David Diaz makes his pictures flow with gentle curves and lines that mimic the restfulness of ocean waves, as the text by Christine Ford and Trish Holland has a pregnant mother and her young child, in the far north, paddling a canoe and saying goodnight to all the animals of the Arctic: walrus, dolphin, whale, polar bear and more. Each goodnight ends with the same refrain: “To Ocean’s children we say good night. Good night, little puffin [or other animal], good night.” And at the end, after the orca, seal, otter and albatross babies have drifted off to sleep, the mother enfolds her child “in a sea of her own quiet dreams” and lets the waves rock her gently to sleep. Rhythmically restful and illustrated with impressionistic beauty, Ocean’s Child is a lovely nighttime tale for young children in any climate.

     You would expect the illustrations to be the main point of interest in a comic book, or in comic-book spinoffs – be they graphic novels, novelizations, easy readers, what-have-you – and in fact the pictures are the main thing in three of the four new books based on the adventures of Marvel’s redoubtable Spider-Man. The exception is The Lizard’s Legacy, in which John Sazaklis’ rather mundane illustrations take a back seat to Mark W. McVeigh’s story of the chaos caused when Dr. Curtis Connors is accidentally transformed into the evil Lizard. This novella is little troubled by the things that made Marvel superheroes distinctive from those of DC Comics (Superman, Batman, etc.): “superheroes with super problems” and “with great power comes great responsibility.” There is a slight family angle to the Lizard’s tale – Dr. Connors’ transformation endangers his son, Billy – but by and large, this is a straightforward bang-up adventure, worth a (+++) rating for Spider-Man fans ages 7-10. The three other new Spider-Man books also get (+++) ratings for their intended audiences. Clash with the Rhino, by Jennifer Christie, is for ages 3-7, with ample and simple illustrations by Andie Tong. The battles with Electro and Kraven are Level 2 books in the “I Can Read!” series. Both are written by Susan Hill; Electro’s illustrations are credited to MADA Design and Kraven’s to Tong. With their few words, very fast-paced stories and big, bright pictures, these short books will appeal to kids ages 4-8 who are already committed Spidey fans.

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