May 26, 2011


The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York. By Kevin Hawkes. Knopf. $16.99.

Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures #7: The Flying Chinese Wonders. Created by Jeff Brown. Written by Josh Greenhut. Pictures by Macky Pamintuan. Harper. $4.99.

Calendar Mysteries: #5—May Magic; #6—June Jam. By Ron Roy. Illustrated by John Steven Gurney. Random House. $4.99 each.

     The “wicked big” toddlah – so described in quintessential Maine language, which simply means “really big” but sounds so much better – returns for a second outing in Kevin Hawkes’ new book, which is even funnier than the original The Wicked Big Toddlah. There is no attempt here to explain the boy’s enormity (he is bigger than a diesel engine and stands, depending on the illustration, somewhere between three stories and 20 stories tall). His normal-sized parents are so used to him and so accustomed to his size that, in this book, they “misplace” him and don’t even realize it for a while. New Yorkers, of course, are famously blasé about celebrities and everything else, so it is perhaps not so surprising that they simply make plenty of room for the toddlah and otherwise do not gawk, stare or exclaim. For example, they turn over an entire section of Yankee Stadium to him and appear appreciative when he picks up a Staten Island Ferry and carries it toward the Statue of Liberty (although the souvenir that the toddlah takes Down East does raise a few law-enforcement eyebrows at the book’s very end). The most amusing part of this book, as of its predecessor, is how little the toddlah’s size matters to the other characters – although readers stay focused on it. In New York, for example, the toddlah (also called “Toddie”) runs into some other toddlahs, and all of them play a series of games just as if all were the same size. The gentle absurdity throughout is completely winning.

     Flat Stanley is a marvelous character, too, although the Worldwide Adventures series is far less interesting than the original Jeff Brown stories. The Flying Chinese Wonders, which gets a (+++) rating, has Stanley accidentally injuring a Chinese acrobat named Yang – and therefore needing to take Yang’s place in the Chinese New Year show with Yang’s partner, Yin. This, of course, requires Stanley to travel to China, where he meets Great Uncle Yang (the whole family is named Yin or Yang) – who has much wisdom and a tendency to disappear. Stanley gets to see the Terracotta Army, stand atop the Great Wall of China, and perform in the Forbidden City. There is the sort of dialogue that Westerners tend to associate with Chinese knowledge: “When you stop trying, that is when you will be ready.” And Stanley gets injured – for the first time since being flattened – but that turns out just fine, as does everything else. The tale is very slight, but Stanley’s youngest fans will enjoy it.

     Ron Roy’s month-by-month Calendar Mysteries are also thin (+++) books with slight plots, but they too have fans who will enjoy the two latest entries. May Magic is about mixed-up hypnotism – and ducks. Brian Pinto wants to raise ducks, so he and his twin, Bradley, arrange to celebrate Mother’s May (hence the May association) by having their mom hypnotized into liking ducks. Or is she hypnotized into becoming a duck? Therein lies the mystery, and a thoroughly silly one it is. Of course everything turns out to be a joke, and then there’s a joke on the joke, and everyone ends up happy. You might even say the conclusion is just ducky. As for June Jam, this time the focus is (not surprisingly) on Father’s Day – for which Bradley and Brian, plus Nate and Lucy, decide to make strawberry jam, using fresh-picked strawberries. But the kids soon discover that the strawberries have been nibbled – and the mystery is, whodunit? Again, this is a super-simple premise, and after misadventures involving scarecrow construction, an animal trap, and speculation that either a python or octopus might be the berry eater, the real culprit is found and turns out to be quite harmless – and the family finds a way to make strawberry jam after all. There’s not much to the Calendar Mysteries books – not much plot, not much characterization, certainly not much mystery – but they are pleasant, easy-to-read stories for kids just becoming interested in chapter books.

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