October 21, 2010


Harry Potter Magic Eye Book: 3D Magical Creatures, Beasts and Beings. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

Fly Guy #9: Buzz Boy and Fly Guy. By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.

Captain Sky Blue. By Richard Egielski. Michael di Capua/Scholastic. $17.95.

On the Go. By Leslie Jonah. Illustrated by Joshua Nash. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

How Do Dinosaurs Laugh Out Loud? By Jane Yolen. Illustrations by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $7.99.

     Imagination soars in all these books, which have a variety of ways to pull young readers skyward into their world. And some of the books show ways in which “the death of print” is vastly exaggerated – for the books do things that are simply not adequately reproducible on E-readers or computer screens. For example, the upcoming release of the first of two films based on J.K. Rowling’s final novel about Harry Potter has led to the creation of a new “Magic Eye” book – one of those fascinating creations that frustrate some people completely while delighting others to an equal degree. These books use complex interweavings of similar but not identical pictures to create three-dimensional effects that readers must extract for themselves by using special eye-focusing techniques. Once you learn them, the techniques are easy – and part of the fun lies in learning and then applying them (which distinguishes this 3D from movie 3D, for which all you do is don glasses). A lot of the Harry Potter Magic Eye Book involves flying. There are no scenes from the not-yet-released film, but there are two of Hedwig the owl, one of Buckbeak aloft, one of a Dementor hovering menacingly, one of a Hungarian Horntail Dragon, and plenty of pictures that will let readers’ thoughts take wing even though the characters are on the ground: Fluffy the three-headed guard dog, Dobby the house elf, a centaur, Harry’s Stag Patronus, a mermaid, a werewolf, and others. Imaginatively laid out, with non-3D pictures from the Harry Potter films integrated into the 3D elements, the Harry Potter Magic Eye Book is a feast for the imagination as well as the eyes.

     Tedd Arnold’s odd flying character, Fly Guy, takes wing again in Buzz Boy and Fly Guy, one of the cleverest entries in this series. It is a book within a book: Buzz, who owns Fly Guy, draws a comic in which the two of them are the same size and are superheroes – and both of them can fly. And Fly Guy can talk, not just say the name “Buzzzzz.” The two take part in a suitably silly story, in which pirates come during the night, pick up their house, and take it to a dragon’s cave on a distant island. After a series of misadventures, everything turns out just fine, the now-friendly dragon joins the good guys, and Fly Guy proclaims them “herozzz.” Very neat and very in-character.

     The title character of Captain Sky Blue is superheroic, too, but what makes Richard Egielski’s book special is less the adventure but the way it is told: in pilot lingo. The inside front cover gives a list of 24 terms used by pilots – every one of which appears in the book. These phrases propel a story in which the captain – who is a toy and looks like one – has a great Christmas adventure after, or maybe before, arriving at the home of a young boy named Jack. The time confusion is deliberate and is part of the book’s attraction: Jack and the captain (whose eyes are pinpoints, keeping him toylike even though he does human things) build the captain’s plane together, and then Captain Sky Blue takes off on aerial adventures above Jack – until a storm brings the plane down and the captain finds himself underwater, entangled with a whale, and then inside a mysterious somewhere that he recognizes. Captain Sky Blue finds his way back from that place by packing himself in a box that is loaded aboard Santa’s sleigh – which the captain has to help Santa pilot through a bad storm to get to Jack’s house. But didn’t the whole story start at Jack’s house after Captain Sky Blue arrived? Kids will enjoy puzzling out the mystery while learning some unfamiliar terms and looking at illustrations created with Egielski’s usual high level of skill and attention to detail.

     On the Go features a pilot in an airplane on the cover, too, but that is just one way in which things and people move in this little board book featuring lenticular animation – what Accord Publishing calls “AniMotion.” This is the process by which stationary objects are made to move – or seem to move – thanks to a vertical black-and-white grid that creates the illusion of motion as a reader changes the angle of the page. This means that hot-air balloons really do seem to float in the clouds on one page, and there is plenty of activity on (or near) the ground as well: snowboards, a submarine beneath the sea, a roller coaster, and race cars all zip about, up and down and around and around, until – on the last page – a little boy with a big smile plops down on the grass, tired out by all the activity. As usual in “AniMotion” books, the story is thin, basically just describing the movement: “Submarines dive down to the ocean floor,/ Where there’s an undersea world for you to explore.” But the lenticular animation helps the imagination soar high.

     It is also imagination that takes flight in the latest Jane Yolen/Mark Teague dino delight, How Do Dinosaurs Laugh Out Loud? This too is a board book with a difference: in this case, flaps that kids lift to reveal really bad dinosaur-related jokes: “What did the Triceratops land on when he fell down? His Tricera-bottom!” As in all these dino books, a big attraction is Teague’s meticulous rendering of Allosaurus, Polacanthus, Pachycephalosaurus and the other dinosaurs – which he then shows with thoroughly human expressions and in thoroughly human postures. To make things even funnier, each page features flaps covered by thoroughly unrealistic drawings of dinosaurs – the sort that would likely be made by children who read the book. The kid-drawing flaps and parts of the realistic-looking dinosaurs conceal answers to the riddles, giving young readers plenty of activity in which to indulge while enjoying some silliness and letting their thoughts fly off into a world in which dinosaurs are really just big kids at heart.

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