July 30, 2009


Dr. Seuss Lacing Cards: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Scholastic. $14.99.

Dr. Seuss Puzzle Story: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Scholastic. $14.99.

Ugly Boards: ABC U Later; 123 4 U. By David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. Random House. $6.99 each.

     The good Dr. Seuss continues to inspire endlessly inventive repackagings more than 17 years after his death. And it is a tribute to the guardians of his memory that the various entertainments based on Theodor Seuss Geisel’s books have by and large been respectful of the unique nature of his themes, characters and even his rhymes. (Thank goodness, no one has created The Cat in the Hat Comes Back Yet Again or any similar monstrosity.) Kids too young to read the Dr. Seuss books themselves – as young as age three – can get a delightful introduction to the works with such activity offerings as the Dr. Seuss Lacing Cards and Dr. Seuss Puzzle Story. The card set includes five scenes taken more or less from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – a closeup of the Grinch’s green face; a picture of him carrying a bag of toys; a view of his dog, Max, dressed in a Santa Claus hat rather than the antlers he is made to wear in the book; a stylized Cindy-Lou Who; and Cindy-Lou peeking through a Christmas wreath. Parents will notice that none of these pictures quite matches anything in the book – in the case of the Grinch’s face, for example, his scowl has been toned down. This is typical of Seuss repackagings for young children, and will not really interfere with kids’ enjoyment of the scenes or of the full-length story (when they later encounter the book itself). The lacings here – five colors of laces are included – do not help create the pictures, but simply outline them. These cards will be most enjoyable for young children just developing motor skills. The enclosed booklet not only helps parents teach their kids lacing but also includes additional Seussian activities, such as a maze and a counting game. It’s fun all around (all around the lacing cards, that is).

     The approach of the Dr. Seuss Puzzle Story will intrigue slightly older kids. This package includes four separate jigsaw puzzles, already partially assembled but easy to take completely apart if you wish, and all based on characters from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (although, as in the Lacing Cards, not necessarily showing exact scenes from the book). Very cleverly, the puzzles have four different backing colors (red, blue, green and yellow), so the pieces are easy to sort and difficult to mix up. The booklet here gives solutions to all the puzzles and also includes counting and find-the-picture games. The sturdy, magnetic-strip-closure packaging of both new Dr. Seuss items should keep them in good shape for plenty of uses and reuses – until kids become curious enough about the books themselves to want to hear, and then read, the stories.

     Dr. Seuss characters have their own undeniable form of cuteness, but so do some characters described by their creators as ugly: the Uglydolls and the cartoon characters drawn (so to speak) from them. Uglydolls are misshapen blobs in moderately blah colors, sometimes with one eye or three (or one that works and one that doesn’t), occasionally with snaggle teeth or a pronounced overbite, with lumpy bodies and tongues perpetually sticking out and all sorts of unappealing characteristics…but, gosh darn it, the whole is cuter than the sum of its parts. David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim never quite take ugliness seriously, and the dolls and drawings maintain a kind of innocently appealing outlook on life that makes them the diametric opposites of Jim Benton’s Happy Bunny character, who looks adorable but is deeply steeped in cynicism and sarcasm. Young kids (ages up to four) who like Uglydolls (the playthings) will also like Ugly Boards (board books featuring the playthings) – and the books make a nice introduction to the alphabet and to counting. ABC U Later, for example, starts traditionally with “A is for Apple,” but then has “B is for Bargain,” with two of the Uglydolls taking low-priced apples to eat so they can “keep the doctor away” – but then comes “C is for Checkup,” with the same Uglydolls getting sick from eating too many apples. That sort of story continuity continues through the book: “M is for More Sugar, N is for Nonstop Candy, O is for Open Up!” And the last of these shows the Uglydoll in the dentist’s chair. For P and Q, we get “Mind Your P’s and Q’s,” with nine interpretations of what that might mean. And so on, very amusingly. 123 4 U is funny, too: “4” offers four bones given to four one-eyed Uglydogs; “5” has a five-armed character complaining that mittens only come in packages of four or six; “8” has an Uglydoll eating a cookie shaped like the number while saying, “I ate 8.” No one would really call the Uglydolls pretty, but they do manage to transcend their misshapen bodies to come across as…well, pretty adorable. And they definitely have a cute way of explaining letters and numbers.

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