November 25, 2009


The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow. By Andy Griffiths. Illustrated by Terry Denton. Feiwel and Friends. $14.99.

Baking Kids Love. By Sur La Table with Cindy Mushet. Photography by Maren Caruso. Andrews McMeel. $20.

Draw Star Wars: The Clone Wars. By the editors of Klutz and Bonnie Burton. Klutz. $16.95.

     There is so much for parents to do at this time of year that kids can sometimes get left behind, except of course when it is time for eating food and opening presents. Here, though, are three delightful ways for kids to take part in adventures of their own – or ones they can share. For young readers, ages 4-8, The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow will be exactly the sort of book they want to read by themselves. Andy Griffiths, an Australian children’s-book author who has clearly figured out how to channel Seussian cadences, here produces 10 very simple rhymed stories that are an absolute hoot to read. “Big Fat Cows,” which is more or less the title story, starts things off just perfectly: “It’s raining big fat cows today. How many cows? It’s hard to say. A big cow here. A fat cow there. Big fat cows are EVERYWHERE!” Abetted by wonderfully funny drawings by Terry Denton, who often collaborates with him, Griffiths lurches delightfully all over the place – from cows in space to one that really does explode (twice, in fact). And then there are the tales of “Noel the Mole,” “Klaus the Mouse,” “Willy the Worm” (who has trouble at squirm school), “Keith, Ed, and Daisy” (who make unusual choices in clothing), “Lumpy-head Fred,” “Brave Dave,” “Ruth’s Super Scooter,” “Mike’s Bike” (which has a VERY BIG SPIKE), and “Somewhere Less Spiky” (that is, away from Mikey). The jaunty rhythms will keep even reluctant readers interested in taking part in the book: “And that’s the whole story of the mole called Noel – he’s a hole-dwelling, coal-eating, rock-and-roll mole!” And the pictures go wonderfully well with the words – in fact taking over altogether for several pages in the “Mike’s Bike” tale. The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow is a great way to get kids to read, instead of insisting that you read to them (although it’s really fun for adults to read the book out loud, too).

     Baking Kids Love invites participation of a different kind. Here, the cookware-store chain Sur La Table and Cindy Mushet, a professional pastry chef and baking teacher, have gotten together dozens of really delicious baked-goods recipes that kids can handle with adult supervision – or, for older children, on their own. Cookies, pies, cakes, quick breads and more permeate the pages of this spiral-bound, lie-flat book, which is easy enough for first-time bakers (it even explains how to measure ingredients and grease pans) but offers plenty of creativity for more-advanced young bakers. Sprinkled throughout are wonderful photos of kids enjoying the results of the recipes, plus quotations that are almost, if not quite, as much fun as eating all these delicious things: “When I bite into one [of the chocolate-chip cookies], I’m in cookie heaven, surrounded by more cookies that have little halos and wings, sitting on clouds.” Meringue crispies, chocolate toffee bars, jumbleberry pie, vanilla scones, pumpkin gingerbread, chocolate-caramel cheesecake, cinnamon rolls, chocolate chunk bread pudding – just the names of the foods are mouth-watering (and these are only some of the recipes). Interspersed with the step-by-step directions are sections called “playing around,” showing how much fun you can have by varying elements of recipes. Baking Kids Love is a book adults will love, too – not only for the delicious results but also for the chance to take part in some truly yummy projects with some sure-to-be-delighted children.

     For kids who express their artistry outside the kitchen, the new Klutz invitation to Draw Star Wars: The Clone Wars offers plenty of guidance and, like a good recipe book, plenty of opportunities for experimentation, too. Klutz – now part of the Scholastic family – has long specialized in well-made “books-plus” offerings, in which the book itself is only part of the package. This time, the guidance on character drawing comes packaged with blank paper, tracing paper and just the right tools to follow instructions and eventually go beyond them: mechanical pencil, marker, colored pencils (actually six colors in three pencils), and eraser. As with a cookbook, Draw Star Wars: The Clone Wars starts with the basics about how to draw (including how to sit) and what not to do when creating art. Tracing, overlines, stick figures, building-block shapes and more elements of drawing are applied to characters from this part of the Star Wars saga. Young artists find out how to create Anakin, R2-D2, Chancellor Palpatine, Jabba the Hutt, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and other characters (20 in all), as well as the opposing armies (“good guys” clone troopers and “bad guys” battle droids), a variety of weapons, and more. Star Wars: The Clone Wars may not be among the best stories in the Star Wars series, which now dates back more than 30 years; but young, artistically inclined fans of this installment will find the new Klutz how-to-draw guide a wonderful invitation to take part in the adventure and make it their own.

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