April 07, 2011


The Klutz Guide to the Galaxy. By Pat Murphy and the Scientists of Klutz Labs. Klutz. $19.99.

Clackers: Crocodile; Monkey. By Luana Rinaldo. Robin Corey Books. $5.99 each.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: A Counting Nursery Rhyme. By Salina Yoon. Robin Corey Books. $6.99.

Go, Dog. Go! Party Book. Random House. $6.99.

Go, Dog. Go! By P.D. Eastman. Random House. $8.99.

     There are books to read, and then there are books for more than reading. For older kids, ages eight and up, there is Klutz, which actually claims to create things for ages three to 103 (but why discriminate against 104-year-olds?). The Klutz Guide to the Galaxy would seem to be tailor-made for Klutz konstructions such as galactic maps and amusing aliens and parodies of Douglas Adams’ famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But in fact it is a pretty serious book, not counting the illustrations, which are Klutzily amusing. There really are star maps here, and there really is good, solid information on where Earth fits within the solar system, which fits within the galaxy, which fits within the universe, and so on (well, there’s no “and so on” beyond the universe, but you get the idea). There are also things to build here, and as usual with Klutz, pretty much everything needed for the building is built into the book itself. There’s a sundial, with all parts included except a pencil (Klutz assumes you can get one of those easily enough). There’s a night-sight flashlight, an object that not only has a rhyming name but also has genuine astronomical-observation value, since its dim red light makes it easy to see at nighttime – unlike white light, which interferes with night vision. Most intriguingly of all, there is a telescope – yes, a real, working one (albeit with hard plastic lenses rather than glass ones) that you assemble from the parts bound into the book, then use to look at heavenly bodies and other interesting stuff. Tabs in the book direct reader-participants to sections called “Sun Time,” “Tour the Moon,” “Explore the Planets,” “Steer by the Stars,” and “What’s Where When?” The last of these includes a “Lunatic Wheel” for figuring out when and where to see the moon, plus an age-on-other-planets page in which you look at your age in Earth years, then see how old you would be on other planets – based on the notion that a year always contains 52 weeks, but as a totality is the amount of time it takes a planet to orbit the sun (a 10-year-old would be three weeks old on Neptune and 16 years old on Venus, for example). The Klutzniks bury lots of legitimate science amid their Galactic Passport, Map of the Milky Way, Grand Tour of the Solar System postcard and other features – giving readers lots to do and lots to learn, all wrapped Klutzily together.

     For much younger kids, up to age three, the Clackers books offer participatory fun of a very different (and very age-appropriate) sort. These little 14-page books are a step beyond board books (or a step before them): the cardboard pages are attached to foam cores that make a not-too-loud clacking noise when you grab the books by their handles and shake them back and forth. The handles have holes in them that are a good size for small fingers, so babies and toddlers will quickly learn to “clack” the books on their own. And the stories are very simple and enjoyable: in Crocodile, the little croc looks for her mother, finding her by the waterfall, where the two splash together playfully; in Monkey, the title character swings through the trees, observing other animals (each given a sound effect that an adult can make for a baby) and eventually landing on a banana plant for lunch. Both parents and young children will find something to do here.

     They will find things to do in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe as well. Aimed at the same very young kids, Salina Yoon’s count-to-10 book has an unusually attractive layout that includes cutouts within pages and two foldouts for the numbers nine and 10. The number “three” gets three colorful horizontal stripes, for example, while the number “four” gets a cross shape (two intersecting lines) on the next page – that shape seen through a square cutout. Turn the page, and the rhyme is completed: “knock at the door,” with the three stripes now part of a door and the four lines part of a window. The whole book is filled with bright colors and clever illustrations, although parents may wonder why the rhymes have been altered from the traditional version (not only “knock at the door” instead of “open the door” but also “a good fat hen” instead of “a big fat hen,” although the picture certainly shows a very large hen indeed). This board book is very sturdy, and its overall scenario – which involves a circus – fits the counting rhyme well and gives Yoon plenty of chances to create attractive illustrations.

     Also for the youngest children – although not the very youngest ones, who would be tempted to put inappropriate things in their mouths – is the Go, Dog. Go! Party Book, which includes stickers, construction projects and games based on P.D. Eastman’s well-known 1961 dogs-on-the-move book, called simply Go, Dog. Go! Parents can help kids make the party hats and snack cups included here, and kids can use the stickers to decorate the “dog party” poster. There is also a game board, with 30 game cards to cut out – in fact, the entire book will be a mass of shredded paper when parents and kids are finished with it, but it (or rather its remnants) will still contain plenty of fun. Whether that will be more fun than Eastman’s original book will be a matter of opinion – and of age, since the book is intended for slightly older children (ages 5-8). The new “50th-anniversary party edition” of Go, Dog. Go! – which has a foil-enhanced cover – shows why this popular book has remained such a favorite for decades: it builds carefully from the single word “dog” into a tale of dogs of all sizes, shapes and colors rushing to a big tree for a big party, and there is even a subplot about whether or not one dog likes another dog’s hat (on several occasions, no, but at the party at the end, yes). Simple but not too simple, Eastman’s book may not provide specific activities beyond reading itself; but reading alone is, after all, a wonderful activity, and even 21st-century early readers will enjoy this book, which uses a mere 75 words to tell a colorful, amusing and thoroughly enjoyable story. And a timeless one.

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