February 04, 2010


Lawn to Lawn. By Dan Yaccarino. Knopf. $17.99.

Kiss Kiss. By Selma Mandine. Golden Books. $12.99.

You’re Lovable to Me. By Kat Yeh. Illustrated by Sue Anderson. Random House. $15.99.

     Non-lovers of tacky little lawn ornaments can turn their backs on Lawn to Lawn, but everyone else will be charmed by it – starting with the cover, which features Dan Yaccarino’s portrayal of the four heroes of the book: a pink flamingo, garden gnome, lamp-bearing jockey and decorative fawn. In fact, it is the pictures that make this book so delightful: the story serves them rather than being served by them. The plot is simply that a family moves from one home to another, leaving its lawn ornaments behind, and the ornaments decide to find the new house because the family’s little girl, Pearl, is so fond of them. That’s it. The book unfolds as an adventure in travel – during which each “starring” lawn ornament is tempted to abandon the quest, but perseveres. The fawn, for example, is enchanted by a “brave moose statue” that chases away some gargoyles, while the jockey is tempted to stay at a racetrack. But the four ornaments keep going, encountering fountains and restaurant mascots and even a couple of “snooty lion” guards – and always watching for trash trucks, which they know will sometimes pick up lawn ornaments and take them away forever. In a neat twist, a trash truck turns out to help the seekers, whose eventual reuniting with Pearl is no less heartfelt for being inevitable. “The journey had been worth it,” the lawn ornaments conclude – and young readers (ages 5-9) will surely agree.

     Kiss Kiss is for even younger children – ages 3-7 – and is equally sweet. Again, the plot is simple and the illustrations wonderful. The story, such as it is, has a teddy bear asking his owner what an apparently little thing – a kiss – is like. The answer, it turns out, takes many forms. When “a kiss is supersoft, like cuddly wool,” Selma Mandine’s illustration is all pink and cloudlike. For a prickly kiss from scratchy-faced Daddy, the color palette is green, with cacti. For grandpa’s kiss, which is “just like cotton candy,” two pages are covered with pink candy swirls from which hearts peek out. And so the story goes, even including wet kisses (with water drops shaped like hearts) from the dog, Rex. But the teddy bear never quite understands what a kiss is, so a demonstration is called for, proving that a kiss is “soft and warm and fresh – It’s delicious!” And so is Kiss Kiss.

     The six little bunnies featured in You’re Lovable to Me have been getting into some not-so-little mischief, throwing food and pulling toilet paper everywhere in the bathroom and squeezing out all the toothpaste and generally creating chaos, in scenes that will be quite familiar to kids ages 2-6 – the book’s target audience. By bedtime, the bunnies are concerned, as young children would be, too, about causing their mother so much trouble. Worried about mama’s reaction, they apologize – but instead of getting scolded, they get a lesson in love. Mama tells them that whether they are sad, frightened, lonely, worried, mad or even “plain exhausted,” she loves them – simply because “I’m your mama. You’re my bunnies. And you’re lovable to me.” Kat Yeh’s story could end there – but what makes this book so special is that it doesn’t. For all her words of appreciation, the bunnies’ mother is exhausted, and still has so much cleaning up and rearranging to do that she eventually falls asleep sitting on the sofa. And then her father – the little bunnies’ grandpa – stops by “for evening tea” and finds his little girl, now all grown up, all worn out. And that sets him to thinking about what love means: “When a papa loves a bunny, he still lives her when she’s grown.” And he remembers his little bunny’s growing-up years, and all that was special about them, and he covers tired mama with a blanket and holds her gently as her little bunnies, who apparently have not fallen asleep just yet, peek down on mama and grandpa from the staircase. This is a wonderful message about the cross-generational power and importance of love, and Sue Anderson’s beautifully sentimental illustrations bring it home as clearly as do Yeh’s words. Love itself is, after all, a little word – but as this book shows, it is scarcely a little thing.

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