February 21, 2013
(++++) CUTENESS ABOVE ALL
Mommy’s Little Monster. By Dawn McNiff. Pictures by Kate Willis-Crowley. Chicken House/Scholastic. $16.99.
Hey, Duck! By Carin Bramsen. Random House. $17.99.
Anyone who does not go “awwwwww!” when reading these books has a Scroogelike aversion to the utterly adorable. There is nothing particularly unusual about the books’ plots, but the pictures are so all-fired sweet that adults will want to cuddle their children extra-hard just for an excuse to read the books together. In fact, cuddling is what Mommy’s Little Monster is all about. You might think, from the title, that this is a book about misbehavior, but not at all. It is simply the story of a toddler who happens to be a monster – a troll, to be specific – and who absolutely adores his troll mommy, who is going out to a party even though Tiny Troll clings to her and does everything in his power to get her to stay home. Tiny Troll, in his striped onesie, with his big green head, wide eyes and small horns, is beyond adorable, and the story as told by Dawn McNiff and illustrated by Kate Willis-Crowley is wonderful from start to finish. Somehow, Willis-Crowley manages to make the troll furnishings, which include the requisite insects and spider webs and other cave decorations, really cute. And the simple story just doesn’t let up: “Tiny Troll took one look at his mommy and loved her so much he nearly popped!” So will non-troll parents looking at the big, heavy troll who has “rubbed slime into her scales” and “put on her high-heeled clodhoppers and her pondweed cloak.” The unhappy bewilderment of downcast Tiny Troll as his mommy waves goodbye, leaving him with babysitter Mrs. Hag, is too cute for words – good thing it is shown in a picture. It turns out that Mrs. Hag is darned good at babysitting: she knows to offer Tiny Troll mudmilk (which he initially refuses) and to look the other way when “he flung his toy slug against the wall.” As Tiny Troll works through his temper tantrum, off to the swamproom goes Mrs. Hag, leaving the devastated little troll sprawled adorably on the “itchy mat,” his tiny tail banging against the door as he cries tears of frustration. But then the smell of the delicious mudmilk revives him, just a little, and Tiny Troll goes to see Mrs. Hag, who lets him have two mugs of the yummy drink – something even his mommy does not do. So the evening works out just fine after all, and when Tiny Troll’s mommy returns home – bringing him a delicious gift of rotten worms – the little troll is already happily asleep, but not so deeply as to be unaware that he is being picked up and cuddled. Awwwwww….
Carin Bramsen is both author and illustrator of Hey, Duck! – and she has a very different, but equally effective, approach to total cuteness. Unlike the deliciously overdone troll illustrations, Bramsen’s are of photographic quality, actually looking realer than real and thus heightening the effect of her simple and silly story. The too-cute-for-words duckling in this book mistakes a cat for another duck and keeps asking the cat to play, leading to dialogue such as this: “‘Such pretty feathers, by the way.’ ‘Such pretty fur, you mean to say’” – the picture showing the cat with arched back and fur standing up all the way to the tip of its tail. The cat’s expressions of bewilderment as the duck refuses to take “I’m a cat” for an answer are hilarious, and when the duck finally gives up and goes off to play alone, no one is more surprised than the cat at discovering that – well, it would be fun to play together, after all. “Who needs that grumpy duck for fun?” wonders the duckling as the cat goes to sleep up in a tree – soon awakening to search for the duck and become frustrated at not finding him. The cat’s surprise when encountering a yellow truck (not a yellow duck) and then a yellow chick (also not a yellow duck) is delightfully silly, and when the cat does finally find the duckling, he asserts, with perfect illogic, “QUACK!” And so the two friends have a great time together, although the cat is not so sure about splashing about in puddles. But what are friends for, if not to have new experiences together? And so with a final “MEOW” – this from the duckling – Bramsen concludes a book that is about as sweet as it is possible for a book to be. Awwwwww indeed.