April 25, 2013


Snippet the Early Riser. By Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Knopf. $15.99.

Ribbit! By Rodrigo Folgueira. Illustrated by Poly Bernatene. Knopf. $15.99.

Fancy Nancy: Puppy Party. By Jane O’Connor. Cover illustration by Robin Preiss Glasser. Interior illustrations by Carolyn Bracken. HarperFestival. $3.99.

     The central characters in these books for very young readers practically ooze charm. And that’s not all that Snippet oozes – he is, after all, a snail, even if he does have a shell that appears to be made of patched denim. Snippet is clearly not a very realistic snail, and that matters not at all in this story of a family whose members have different waking-and-sleeping patterns. Snippet likes to get up early and start playing, but his parents and sister (each sporting a differently colored and patterned shell) prefer to sleep late. Snippet is otherwise just an ordinary snail who happens to make sculptures, play soccer with pillbugs (using them as balls), and love piggyback rides atop his parents’ shells. (Anyone who wants some facts about real snails can find them on the book’s inside front and back covers.) Bethanie Deeney Murguia shows Snippet and his family curling up for the night underneath a leaf – a place where snails really do sleep – and then shows Snippet’s vain attempts to get everyone up the next morning. Various bug friends offer to help Snippet get the family to wake up, but the suggestions by Grasshopper, Cricket, Ant and Firefly do not work, and Snippet declines Stinkbug’s offer to “stink them out.” Then Snippet, watching Caterpillar having his breakfast of leaves, has an idea of his own, and manages to get everyone up while serving them breakfast in bed, snail style. So all goes well, and everyone has a great time all day, and then – well, as the day draws to a close, it is Snippet who falls asleep while everyone else stays awake, setting the stage for a repeat of the whole process the next morning. Snippet the Early Riser has no message beyond the soft-pedaled one of accepting other people’s differing circadian rhythms, but it does not need any message – it is simply a warmly amusing tale, nicely told and very pleasantly illustrated.

     However, there is a message in Rodrigo Folgueira’s Ribbit! From the way the book starts, with Poly Bernatene’s wholly apt picture of a pink piglet sitting on a rock in the middle of a pond and talking frog talk – to the consternation of all the frogs – you might expect the message to be along the lines of, “Be yourself.” But that is not it at all. Folgueira and Bernatene turn the book into a small mystery story about a very cute but apparently clueless piglet and a set of animals trying to figure out just what is going on. The raccoon, weasel and parrot who come to see the strange little pig cannot offer the frogs any clues, so the chief frog decides to pay a visit to “the wise old beetle,” who is usually unapproachable but will surely help out in this particular case. The frogs and other animals, “all talking at once,” try to explain the oddity to the beetle, who decides he had better head for the pond and see for himself what is going on. And when he arrives, he finds – nothing. The piglet is gone. Now the animals are really puzzled, but the beetle gives them an offhand suggestion that comes to them as a revelation – proving his wisdom and sending all the animals off to find out where the piglet has gone so they can join him in a hilarious final page that clearly provides the message that friendship conquers all.

     The perky personality of Fancy Nancy is always front-and-center in Jane O’Connor’s  books about her. But she shares the limelight in Fancy Nancy: Puppy Party with her dog, Frenchy, for whom Nancy and her parents are making a birthday party – complete with a bacon-chicken-carrot layer cake with yogurt icing and rawhide strings instead of candles. The scene of Nancy giving Frenchy a pre-party bubble bath as Mom looks on, nonplussed by the mess all over the bathroom, is delightful, and later scenes of the other dogs and people arriving for the party are almost as much fun. This is a short book and not one with a very surprising plot – the dogs will romp and play together, and of course that beautifully crafted cake is going to wind up a total mess; and that is exactly what happens. But all the guests, canine and human, are so good-natured about everything, and the pictures of the delightful sloppiness are so amusing, that dog-owning families are likely to be tempted to try a canine birthday party of their own – although perhaps one a little less exciting than this. Fancy Nancy’s perkiness shines through everything, even when she scolds Frenchy for jumping on the cake and then finds herself giggling along with everyone else at what has happened. By the final page and Nancy’s comment that Frenchy considers the party “the greatest birthday celebration ever,” readers will be thoroughly charmed – as is so often the case in stories about the très charmant Fancy Nancy and her pleasantly indulgent family.

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