May 27, 2010


A Wish for You. By Matt Novak. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat. By Karla Kuskin. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Harper. $16.99.

Thanks to You: Wisdom from Mother & Child. By Julie Andrews Edwards & Emma Walton Hamilton. Harper. $6.99.

     Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may be once-a-year holidays, but family feeling is an all-year thing, and these books can help bring it out anytime – for children of many ages. If they are very young, up to age five, they will have fun with A Wish for You, whose title becomes clear only as parents read the book to young children. It does not mean a wish given to the child, but a wish to have the child in the first place: this is a book about two individuals wanting to become a family, and succeeding when their baby arrives. Matt Novak’s very simple text is cleverly rhymed throughout to the sound of “two” (canoe, Peru, blue, you, grew, and so on) – until the book’s end, when the celebration of the new baby creates a family of three and changes the rhyme scheme. The illustrations are large, rounded, simple and straightforward, except for one especially clever two-page spread showing mom’s increasingly advanced pregnancy. Kids will outgrow A Wish for You pretty quickly, but until they do, they will enjoy knowing how they became the key to the creation of the family in which they live.

     Somewhat older children, ages 3-8, will find the amusements in A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat equally enjoyable – maybe more so. Karla Kuskin’s story is of the “house that Jack built” type, where each new element is added to the ones that came before, which are then repeated. The hat starts everything: the boy takes it everywhere. Then the mother buys him a mouse – which he includes in all the activities he does while wearing the hat. Then she gets him new shoes, which he wears while holding his mouse and wearing his hat. And so on. The story gets wilder and wilder as the mother buys the boy boots to wear over the shoes, skis into which to strap the boots, and a Halloween mask to wear with everything he already has on (skis included). And then the gifts become even more extravagant – with a little of the flavor of Dr. Seuss, whose boy characters this boy somewhat resembles – until the whole story gets ready to start again because the hat blows off the boy’s head. Kevin Hawkes’ illustrations contribute a great deal to the charm of A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat, showing the increasing absurdity of the boy’s costumes while making the whole tale seem more a silly fable than an overdone exercise in consumerism. Some adults may find the entire “shop till you drop” premise a little off-putting, but a humor transplant should set them right: it is the silliness that saves the story here.

     Thanks to You: Wisdom from Mother & Child approaches family life from the opposite, serious direction. This small gift book is an appreciation of everything that a mother brings to her child – and is intended for the child to give to his or her mom. There is really nothing here that is exclusive to mother-and-child relationships, and were it not for the photos, the book would work equally well for a father and child. But the photos are the main attraction of this book, since the text is of the “overly sentimental greeting card” variety: “Thanks to you, a cloud becomes a castle for a king.” “Thanks to you, I know that all I have to do is try.” “Thanks to you, I’m grateful for the glory of each day.” A little of this goes a long way, and thankfully, the book is short – fewer than 40 pages of text and illustrations. Also thankfully, the pictures, from the authors’ family collections, are more endearing than the words: mom and child leaping into water at the same time, toddler peeking between two trees, one little girl with a flower and another leaving footprints in the sand, and so on. Objectively speaking, the pictures may be as soupy as the words, but they are more effective – because of their seeming naturalness and because they touch the heart in a way that the text does not. Thanks to You: Wisdom from Mother & Child may not truly offer wisdom, but it does provide many expressions of love – which, after all, is at least equally important.

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