February 17, 2011


The LOUD Book! By Deborah Underwood. Illustrated by Renata Liwska. Houghton Mifflin. $12.99.

I’m Not. By Pam Smallcomb. Illustrated by Robert Weinstock. Schwartz & Wade. $15.99.

Big Bunny. By Betseygail Rand and Colleen Rand. Illustrated by C.S.W. Rand. Tricycle Press/Random House. $14.99.

Last One In Is a Rotten Egg! By Diane deGroat. Harper. $6.99.

     Children’s-book animals are at least as adorable as real-life ones – and do not require nearly as much care or cleanup. They teach lessons, too. The lesson of The LOUD Book! is that there are many kinds of loudness, just as Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska showed in their previous collaboration, The Quiet Book, that there are many forms of quiet. The fun here comes from the very realistically drawn teddy bears – living teddy bears, that is, which look exactly like stuffed animals come to life – indulging in various noisy pursuits with their equally adorable rabbit, iguana and other friends, with every page captioned in all-capital letters so as to emphasize the noisiness of it all. “LAST SLURP LOUD,” for instance, shows a bunny drinking the last bit of something from a bowl; “BURP DURING QUIET TIME LOUD” shows the bunny and a bear in school, with three question marks floating above them; “UNEXPECTED ENTRANCE LOUD” features costumed characters running amok in a school play; and “CANDY WRAPPER LOUD” is a scene in a movie theater, with two bears in the audience staring back irritatedly at the reader (but presumably looking back at the candy unwrapper). There is an amusing contrast between “GOOD CRASH LOUD” (bowling alley) and “BAD CRASH LOUD’ (something just outside the picture has been dropped: two bunnies are staring off to the right). The way Underwood and Liwska show that objectively quiet things can seem loud under certain circumstances is especially interesting: “SNORING SISTER LOUD” at bedtime and “CRICKETS LOUD” for a bunny trying to sleep outdoors. Like The Quiet Book, this companion work is well conceived, pleasantly presented and gently amusing throughout.

     I’m Not is even funnier – and even more directly instructive. Pam Smallcomb tells the story of two very different friends, the narrator and Evelyn – hilariously depicted by Robert Weinstock as small dragons, or dinosaurs, or something like that. For most of the book, the narrator (drawn in plain brown) laments the many ways in which bright-green Evelyn is “not one single bit ordinary.” Evelyn, for example, is “up on all the latest fashion trends,” such as “Band-Aids with pearls,” while “I’m not.” Evelyn is “a wonderful decorator” (painting her friend’s ceiling orange and her friend’s scales pink), but “I’m not.” Sometimes Evelyn acts like a circus performer or Antarctic explorer – but whatever she is, “I’m not.” So why do these two very opposite friends enjoy being with each other so much? The reasons, and the underlying celebration of being good at different things, start to emerge midway through the book, when Evelyn admits she is “stinky at spelling,” and the narrator says, “I’m not.” It turns out that Evelyn is scared of the dark, and “the absolute worst at making cookies,” but “I’m not.” The lesson here is quickly made explicit: “Evelyn says that what she needs most is a best friend.” And the two conclude the book with a rousing repetition of “I am!” Highly amusing in its own right, I’m Not is also highly instructive in exactly the right soft-pedaled way.

     The lessons of Big Bunny are all about size, differentness and cooperation, with the story by the Rands (Colleen, who also calls herself C.S.W., is Betseygail’s mother) focusing on all the little Easter bunnies born one spring – one of whom grows and grows and GROWS. Big Bunny likes being big, and the smaller bunnies get along just fine with Big Bunny – until it comes time to start coloring Easter eggs and making Easter baskets. Then Big Bunny breaks eggs and crushes baskets – without meaning to – and becomes so upset that she leaves and “goes far, far away.” The other bunnies put their heads together – their ears, actually – and decide to find Big Bunny and bring her back. They do locate her eventually – she is sitting sadly in a distant forest – and all the bunnies together figure out what to do. The result is a cooperative endeavor in which Big Bunny is key to the prompt delivery of Easter eggs, and all the bunnies work together to make the distribution process go more smoothly than ever. A sweet story with stylized illustrations, Big Bunny will make very young children smile, and perhaps show them the virtues of being inclusive.

     Last One In Is a Rotten Egg! is an Easter story, too, but like Diane deGroat’s other tales of Gilbert the opossum, it teaches in a more explicit way. The book’s title is the phrase repeated again and again by Gilbert’s and Lola’s cousin, Wally, who is always determined to be first – first into the house, first to finish eating, first in line, and so on. Wally’s determination becomes more than merely irritating during an Easter egg hunt, which includes a prize for the finder of a special golden egg. Lola is the one who spots it, but neither she nor Gilbert can reach it – so they call on Wally, who promptly puts it in his own basket. So it is up to Gilbert to think of a way to teach Wally a lesson, which he promptly does – leading to Lola’s recovery of the golden egg, prizes for both Lola and Gilbert, and a lesson in sharing that Wally needs to learn…and, this being a deGroat book, promptly does. The story is a little too creakily structured, a little too manufactured toward teaching that ultimate lesson, so the book gets a (+++) rating because of its obviousness. But it will certainly be appealing to Gilbert’s and deGroat’s many fans.

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