February 07, 2013

(++++) GO, GO, GOSLINGS!

Gideon: It’s Play Time, Not Naptime! By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $6.99.

Gideon & Otto: Best Friends, Lost and Found. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $6.99.

Jasper & Joop: A Perfect Pair—One Tidy, One Messy. By Olivier Dunrea. Houghton Mifflin. $9.99.

      In real life, geese are not particularly pleasant creatures: they are noisy, aggressive and tend to poop all over the place. But in children’s books, from board books onward, they – at least in gosling form – are utterly adorable and a constant source of enjoyment. Tad Hills is probably the primary purveyor of adorableness in goslings with his duck-and-goose tales, but Olivier Dunrea creates even more goslings and produces even a bigger helping of cuteness in his many little books about these ever-adorable critters. Sometimes a single gosling is a book’s focus, as in Gideon: It’s Play Time, Not Naptime! Gideon “is a small, ruddy gosling who likes to play. All day.” And that is what this board book is about: Gideon playing constantly, even when his mother (more realistically drawn than is Gideon himself) reminds him repeatedly that it is time for his nap.  Gideon roams all around the farm where he lives, chasing a piglet, searching for eggs in the henhouse, and enjoying himself with a mole, butterflies and a beetle. Curious about everything, Gideon splashes with ducklings in the pond, listens to bees in their hive, jumps over a frog, and even plays quietly for a short time “with a small turtle.”  Eventually, not surprisingly, his mother – continuing to call him for his nap – finds that he has, on his own, gone to sleep atop a haystack. And that is the whole book – simple and charming.

      In another board book, Gideon plays with Otto, a stuffed octopus. This is Gideon & Otto: Best Friends, Lost and Found, and here Gideon’s propensity for play gets him temporarily into a little bit of trouble. He puts Otto down on a stone wall – after playing with the octopus in several different places – and tells Otto to wait for him there, which of course Otto, being stuffed, is sure to do. But when Gideon plays quite actively with two bunnies, all the activity knocks Otto off the wall and into the grass, so when Gideon comes back for his friend, Otto is nowhere to be found.  Well, there is a moment of worry for Gideon, but only a moment, as Otto reappears in an unexpected and (of course) adorable way, leading to the book’s absolutely-must-have-it happy ending.

      Jasper & Joop: A Perfect Pair—One Tidy, One Messy features two other goslings, and it is a slightly different sort of book: hardcover and thin rather than a board book and thick.  The story here is traditional odd-couple stuff, with tidy white Jasper looking on as messy gray Joop gets as dirty and sloppy as he possibly can.  Jasper watches as Joop jumps in the dirt of a flowerpot, splashes in a sloppy puddle, plays in the mud with piglets, and more. Jasper is not actually disapproving – that level of conflict is absent from all these books – but he simply goes his own way and lets Joop, who after all is his best friend, go his.  But then the two have an unexpected adventure when they provoke some bees, and suddenly staying tidy isn’t so important to Jasper anymore – and then, when they escape the bees by jumping into the pond and getting all the dirt washed off, being messy doesn’t matter much to Joop, either. Both the goslings conclude that they have had plenty of fun, and again, everything ends happily.  Cute critters enjoying themselves in simply written books with mild, non-threatening adventures – that is what Dunrea offers in these and other books about the various goslings he creates. For the youngest children, up to about age four, the easy-to-follow, pleasantly and brightly illustrated books will be plenty of fun. Kids have lots of time to learn the less-pleasant truths about geese when they grow older.

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