April 21, 2011


Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms. By Wade Bradford. Illustrations by Johanna van der Sterre. Tricycle Press/Random House. $16.99.

The Best Birthday Party Ever. By Jennifer LaRue Huget. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Grandma Calls Me Gigglepie. By J.D. Lester. Illustrations by Hiroe Nakata. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.

Lunch Lady No. 5: Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $6.99.

     Silliness is its own reward in books for kids ages 4-8. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes there is an additional reward as well – as, for instance, in Wade Bradford’s Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? The concept here is exceptionally clever: start with the age-old question/complaint of kids everywhere and actually take it backward through the ages, showing the circumstances under which long-ago children might have asked it. Presto: something that’s fun, and funny, and instructive as well. Today’s mom, asked the inevitable question, says it reminds her of her grandmother when grandma was a little girl and asked the same thing. That leads to a story in which grandma’s mother remembers about grandma’s grandfather, who asked the same question. And that brings up a story from a still-earlier time, and so on. What makes the book so much fun, and so instructive, is the detail of the kids’ complaints. In 1801, for example, a girl says, “I already drew water from the well. I dusted off Pa’s fiddle. I even picked up my lasso, my marbles, and my rag dolly. Land’s sakes, Ma, why do I have to make my bed?” Farther back, in 1630, a girl complains, “I already swabbed the deck. I dusted off the captain’s spy scope. I even picked out the rats that were hiding in the pickle barrel. So why do I have to make my bed?” And so on, all the way back to Viking times, the Roman Empire, and into prehistory, when the mother’s reply – “Because I said so” – resounds through the ages. Highly amusing illustrations by Johanna van der Sterre go perfectly with Bradford’s text, which includes two pages at the back of the book explaining more about what kids have needed to do at home and for their families through the ages. This book is fun to read, fun to look at and fun to learn from – no question about it.

     The lesson is subtler and more downplayed in The Best Birthday Party Ever, which features a not-yet-six-year-old who starts planning her upcoming birthday party when her big day is “5 months, 3 weeks, 2 days, and 8 hours away.” This girl is quite a planner, figuring out everything from the number of friends who will attend (57) to the number of balloons (9,000, all pink, “or maybe they’ll be chartreuse”) to the amount of ice cream (7 scoops per person). As her birthday gets closer, her plans get ever more elaborate: a 17-layer cake with 17 different flavors, “6 zillion candles on top” (so the fire department will have to stand ready), not one but two magicians (in case one of them messes things up), and so on. “Of course we will have pony rides. No, wait – camels. Or elephants.” And so it goes, with the planning getting wilder and wilder and LeUyen Pham’s delightful illustrations perfectly pacing Jennifer LaRue Huget’s text. And then comes the big day itself – and there is no castle, no card from the President, no Ferris wheel, not even “hamsters for favors.” But here is where the soft-pedaled lesson comes in: this little girl knows a good thing when she gets one. The cake may have only two layers, but they are her “very favorite,” and her mom even made extra frosting for her; and the balloons, although there are not 9,000 of them, are indeed all pink; and the singing and partying and gifts are simply wonderful, even if nowhere near as grandiose as she had intended. So, indeed, “I’m having the best birthday party ever. Just like I planned.” A happy ending, to be sure – and a reason to start planning next year’s party immediately!

     For kids younger than age four – infants up to about age three – pure silliness is plenty in a book, and is adorable when as pleasantly rhymed and cutely illustrated as it is in Grandma Calls Me Gigglepie. A successor to Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants and Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug, this board book features equally delightful rhyming couplets by J.D. Lester and equally cute pictures by Hiroe Nakata: “Grandma calls me Valentine, ‘cause no one could be sweeter” gets a smiling large koala with a tiny one peeking over the big one’s head, for example, while the next page, “Grandma calls me Slurpy-Slopp – we wouldn’t want it neater!” goes with a big pig and a small one rolling around in a great deal of mud. An affirmation of love as well as a chance to read silly words and enjoy looking at silly drawings, Grandma Calls Me Gigglepie is an intergenerational treat.

     And pure silliness need not be confined to the youngest kids. Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series offers it for readers all the way into the 7-10 age range. The fifth of these black-and-white-and-yellow, small-size graphic novels includes the usual tricks of the detective trade (mirror broom, cookie camera), the usual clues (frosting fingerprints), and the usual dialogue (“It’s as dark as the inside of a chocolate doughnut in here”). It also features a mysterious power outage and the evil Buszilla, as well as the usual detecting by the Breakfast Bunch kids (Hector, Torrence and Dee) – this time with some intrusive and unhelpful assistance from “Safety Patrol Officer” Orson. There is not much of a mystery here, even though Krosoczka tosses about some possible bad guys, such as a bake-sale-hating janitor who dislikes cleaning up all the crumbs and a health-class teacher who says “your body is your temple” and “this whole bake sale is evil.” But even though the real culprit who stole the bake-sale goodies is discovered soon enough, winning the battle against the evildoer is not so easy, requiring some quick work using the Lunch-cycle and some exclamations of surprise: “Greasy bacon!” This is all good clean (occasionally messy) fun, and a delicious addition to a series whose inventiveness and silliness alike show no sign of letting up anytime soon.

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