November 04, 2010


Dancing Dreams. By Kate Ohrt. Illustrated by Kristi Valiant. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Pinkalicious: The Perfectly Pink Collection. By Victoria Kann. HarperFestival. $15.99.

One Million Manga Characters. By Yishan Li. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.

Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives: #1, The Case of the Gasping Garbage; #2, The Case of the Mossy Lake Monster; #3, The Case of the Graveyard Ghost; #4, The Case of the Barfy Birthday; #5, The Case of the Crooked Carnival; #6, The Case of the Terrible T. rex. By Michele Torrey. Illustrated by Barbara Johansen Newman. Sterling. $6.95 each.

Dodsworth in London. By Tim Egan. Sandpiper. $4.99.

Gigi in the Big City. By Charise Mericle Harper. Robin Corey Books. $12.99.

     As we move smartly (hopefully smartly) into gift-giving season, publishers are offering some books that, in big ways or small, are more than just stories to read. Dancing Dreams is one of the best lenticular-animation books yet from Accord Publishing, which offers works containing apparent motion on a regular basis. Modern lenticular animation uses a vertical plastic grid to make it seem that still pictures are moving when the position of a page is changed. Usually the animated elements are add-ons to the story, but in Dancing Dreams they are the story – and are particularly well done. The book is about a little girl named Gracie who loves to dance and dreams of all the things she might do as a dancer when she gets older. When she dreams of being a ballerina, we see an adult and very graceful ballet dancer doing a spin. When she dreams of being in a chorus line, three top-hatted dancers kick up their heels. When she dreams of being a country dancer, the animation shows a woman in cowgirl costume spinning with a partner. And so on, for hula, tap and flamenco dancing, and even cheerleading. The scenes with Gracie herself are part of the fun of the book: in one, she twirls with a penguin, and in several, her much-bandaged legs show that for all her dreaming of poise and elegance in the future, right now she is an active little girl. At the end, a picture of Gracie on stage with her ballet class shows that she is on her way in whatever dancing direction she may choose to take – a lovely message to end a book about dreams and daydreams.

     Dancing Dreams is bound in pink, which is also a color of choice for several of the illustrations. But it is not as pervasively pink as Pinkalicious: The Perfectly Pink Collection, which is a pink-boxed set of pinkness about the pink-loving girl of the title. Animation is not the extra ingredient here, although Pinkalicious is certainly animated in her constant pursuit of all things pink. The three books in this pink package are Pinkalicious and the Pink Drink, Pinkalicious: Tickled Pink, and Pinkalicious: School Rules! The first is about Pinkalicious’ misadventures in trying to make pink lemonade; the second has her in a joke-telling contest at school, which she wins by being both funny and focused on pinkness; and the third, also involving school, is about Goldilicious the unicorn and whether Pinkalicious can have her (imaginary) friend in the classroom. The easy-to-read books are fun in themselves, but Pinkalicious fans will get extra enjoyment from the bonuses: two sheets of stickers, most of them in various shades of pink; a black-and-white Pinkalicious poster that kids can color, presumably mostly in pink; and three pink-wrapped double-color crayons that offer six colors in all – three of which are shades of pink. Perky and pleasant pinkness abounds here and will have young Pinkalicious fans considering themselves in the pink with happiness.

     The binding is bright blue in One Million Manga Characters, which at first glance seems to make this a boy-focused book – although in reality, young artists of both genders will enjoy it equally. Bound right into the front cover is the CD that explains the book’s title. It contains an impressive amount of manga art: 100 heads, 100 upper bodies and 100 lower bodies, any of which can be combined with any others, resulting in 100 x 100 x 100 possible characters – that is, one million. In fact, budding manga artists can make far more than a million characters from this CD by adding their own colors and digital flourishes to the existing art. Yishan Li, a professional manga artist from Shanghai, shows how to do just that in the book’s instructional pages, which explain how to use the CD (for example, “view the different designs…by clicking on the Thumbnails icons next to the drop-down menus”) and also how to modify designs with software such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Palettes, layering, navigation and paint tools, selection areas, brushes, color blocking, shading and highlighting – all these and more are explained in clear, step-by-step instructions that include good hints for beginners as well as intelligent ideas for more-advanced artists. All that information is packed into the first one-third of the book. The balance of One Million Manga Characters shows specific designs for many of the characters that can be made from the parts on the CD, specifying which head number, upper-body number and lower-body number are combined to make each example. The variety is quite amazing even for all-human manga stories, such as ones in the romance, action, adventure, and fashion genres (each of which gets its own section here). But in the book’s final section, “Sci-fi and Fantasy,” the character types really become bizarre, created from mixtures of human, animal and robotic parts using heads that may be male, female, androgynous or taken from the CD’s “fantasy” section, plus body pieces that can come from anywhere: punk, glam, Goth, action, or of course fantasy. The character possibilities are, if not quite endless, so extensive that this book and CD will give budding manga artists absolutely everything they need to people whatever manga worlds they want to create for years to come.

     The “something extra” in the Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives series is nothing as overt as lenticular animation, sticker pages or a CD. It is an appendix of real-life science based on the four stories in each book – that is, science experiments that readers can try after finding out how fifth-grade science detectives Drake Doyle and Nell Fossey solve their latest cases. Doyle (think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger) and Fossey (think of zoologist and gorilla expert Dian Fossey) solve mysteries for their classmates, imparting science knowledge to readers in the process. The six books are now available as paperbacks in similar designs, but the series dates back to 2002: the first four books were originally published in that year and the next. Michele Torrey and Barbara Johansen Newman have done all six books, and they all follow the same intriguing formula: four mysteries per book, each with a solution based on science that fifth-graders can understand, and each offering end-of-book experiments based on the fictional tales. The title story in The Case of the Gasping Garbage, for example, is solved through an understanding of the properties of yeast. The Case of the Mossy Lake Monster involves a “dastardly, but brilliant” plot and the principle of buoyancy. The Case of the Graveyard Ghost includes anther nefarious plot and an old theatrical trick that uses light and a sheet of plastic. The title tale in The Case of the Barfy Birthday ends with the admonition, “Never underestimate bacteria” (notably the ones that cause food poisoning). The two newer books keep the series running at the same high level of interest and with the same attention to scientific detail. The Case of the Crooked Carnival features ghosts and ghouls (not really), aliens (well, no), a bridge made dangerous by its natural frequency, and a carnival game with electromagnetic cheating. The title tale in the sixth and newest Doyle/Fossey book, The Case of the Terrible T. rex, is about the apparent discovery of a T. rex skeleton – and the way stratification of rock is used to determine the age of fossils. There is also a story about what seems to be a werewolf (the solution depends on learning what a fumarole is), plus one about dead fish (which has to do with creeks as river tributaries and the way pollution spreads), and one featuring a talking oven (the solution here explains radio waves). The story-related science activities in all the books are enjoyable as well as educationally valid – good projects, in fact, for fifth-grade science classes. In the newest book, they involve creating your own stratification layers and digging through them while making a site map; doing an experiment that shows how hot air can cause an object to rise; making pH indicators from a coffee filter and using them to measure acidity; and finding out about Morse code. Although the stories are not all equally interesting (in the latest book, the one on pollution is weaker than the others), the experiments and science learning are quite well handled. In presenting age-appropriate mysteries and giving kids something to do in addition to reading the book, The Case of the Terrible T. rex and the other Doyle/Fossey books manage to be fun and – something extra – educational.

     There is education in the latest Dodsworth book as well, but the extra element in Dodsworth in London is a duck. Dodsworth always travels with a duck – the two have gone to New York and Paris in previous books – but the entire London story turns on a very amusing mixup involving Dodsworth’s duck friend and another, identical-looking duck that just happens to belong to the Queen. Dodsworth’s duck and the Royal Duck really do look exactly the same – except for their hats – and the two get mixed up when Dodsworth’s duck accidentally boards a double-decker London bus while leaving Dodsworth himself behind. The Royal Duck is nearby, and Dodsworth understandably thinks it is his duck – although he has some trouble figuring out where the different hat and English accent came from. Before Dodsworth realizes about the duck switch, he has learned from the Royal Duck the difference between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, the fact that Big Ben is the name of the bell in the Clock Tower (not the name of the building itself), and more. But the lessons come to an end when Dodsworth realizes that his duck is missing. The ensuing search, which involves several famous London locations, turns up nothing – because there is a double case of mistaken identity here, in which Dodsworth's duck has been mistaken for the Royal Duck and therefore been allowed into Buckingham Palace, where the Queen herself finds him highly entertaining. Everything is eventually sorted out, of course, with this extra-duck Dodsworth book providing an extra helping of extraordinarily amusing travel.

     City travel – perhaps even to London, since one scene shows cars driving on the left – is also the theme of Gigi in the Big City, where the “extras” are in the form of tabs to pull, foldouts to fold out, wheels to turn and books-within-books to see. This sort of interactivity is not unusual in board books, but it is not typically seen in a work intended for girls as old as age eight. In Charise Mericle Harper’s able hands, though, the design works delightfully – and the accoutrements are much more complex than they would be in books for younger readers. One building exterior, for instance, folds back on two sides to reveal six separate internal flaps, each of which in turn folds back to reveal quite a bit: a single internal flap reveals four different yoga poses, for example. The “Parade of Fashion” storefront opens to reveal Gigi in three different outfits – each divided horizontally in four parts, making it possible to create 64 outfits by matching pieces of one outfit with pieces of another (the same idea, on a smaller scale, as the digital mix-and-match of One Million Manga Characters). Opening the “Museum of Natural History” flap reveals a display of the world’s largest butterfly, the world’s largest flower, and a “mythical creature” exhibit whose elements can be changed by rotating a wheel. Gigi in the Big City is enormously clever from start to finish, from the “makeover” page on which Gigi’s appearance changes based on makeup, a manicure and a pedicure; to the hair salon where Gigi can try numerous styles and look inside three magazines (including one whose contents change based on rotating a wheel); to a final page that shows Gigi happily asleep and includes a “dream changer” so readers can decide which part of the city trip she is enjoying while resting. Gigi in the Big City is fun and funny, filled with information as well as enjoyment, and a lot less exhausting and expensive than an actual trip to a big city can turn out to be. This is one case where the “extras” really are the book – there would be almost nothing to experience without them!

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