April 18, 2013


Tiptoe Joe. By Ginger Foglesong Gibson. Illustrated by Laura Rankin. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.

A Special Gift for Grammy. By Jean Craighead George. Illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Harper. $17.99.

Splat the Cat: The Perfect Present for Mom & Dad. By Annie Auerbach. Cover art by Rob Scotton. Interior art by Rick Farley and Joe Merkel. HarperFestival. $4.99.

The Berenstain Bears: We Love Our Mom! By Jan & Mike Berenstain. HarperFestival. $3.99.

The Berenstain Bears: We Love Our Dad! By Jan & Mike Berenstain. HarperFestival. $3.99.

     There is something particularly loving about springtime, when the world grows green and flowery – and although there are specific “love” holidays in the form of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, they are scarcely the sole expressions of caring and warmth in a season in which the days grow longer and move toward the sultry. Books for children ages 4-8 seem especially open and unaffected in this season. Tiptoe Joe, for example, is not tied directly to any specific holiday or occurrence, but it is a very loving and very cute book all the same. The title character is a huge brown bear wearing a perpetual smile and a pair of sneakers. He looks just ridiculous enough to bring a smile to any young reader’s face – and when he waves directly to readers, breaking the so-called “fourth wall” that normally keeps characters boxed within a book, he is altogether winning. The story is super-simple: Tiptoe Joe meets several other animals and tells each to “come with me./ I know something you should see.” And each animal – donkey, rabbit, turkey, moose, owl and beaver – duly follows along, making more noise than does Tiptoe Joe himself (although not too much more). And the surprise that Tiptoe Joe eventually reveals to them all is as adorable and sweet as can be.

     A Special Gift for Grammy is a much more complicated and thoughtful book for the same age range. It is about a boy named Hunter who gives his grandmother a gift: a pile of stones that he has picked up, one by one, from the road. Hunter’s father asks what they are for, and Hunter says Grammy will do “what everyone does with a pile of stones.” His father agrees – and so does Grammy after she asks the same question and gets the same answer.  What is neat is what Grammy does do with the stones – or rather what other people do with them in their interactions with her. The stones turn out to be very useful to a number of people, in some straightforward but also very clever ways. And at last there are just six small stones left. When Hunter returns to Grammy’s house, he figures out what five of the six represent – and then Grammy figures out how to keep those stones very close to her heart. And the very last stone? Grammy and Hunter enjoy that one together in an ending that makes perfect sense and lovingly cements a tale of multigenerational understanding.

     Books targeted specifically at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are often more straightforward than this. Splat the Cat: The Perfect Present for Mom & Dad works equally well for either “parental” day or for both – or, really, for neither, since Splat says he is simply making his parents a present “to show how much he loved them.” But the gift-making becomes competitive when Splat’s sister and brother decide to make presents for their parents, too, and Splat thinks that theirs are better than his. All three kittens are soon going back to work to make ever-better gifts, and then even better ones. But before things get completely out of hand, the three decide to make a present together – and, not surprisingly, create something elaborate that incorporates everything that have previously made. What this turns out to be is a homemade fish tank filled with objects created by the three kittens (Splat makes the fish) – and what the kittens then end up with is a hilarious conclusion in which some nearby seagulls find the tank so realistic that…well, let’s just say that the tank doesn’t last very long, and the three downcast kittens are left sighing, “Awww…”  But at the very end, everyone is happy again, because Mom and Dad are delighted with the present (or what remains of it), and even more delighted with the thoughtfulness of the kittens who made it for them. A page of stickers provides extra fun in a book whose amusing silliness never displaces its underlying warmth of spirit.

     Two new Berenstain Bears books are targeted directly at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and are typically straightforward (+++) celebrations of wholesomeness, Bear Country style. The books are all about everyday family things that Mama Bear and Papa Bear do for their cubs. Theirs is a very traditional family: Mama cooks, sews clothes, heals minor injuries, does the laundry, gives baths and reads stories; Papa plays sports, pulls the kids’ sled, carries the cubs on his shoulders, and tells “funny stories and corny jokes.” In the Mother’s Day book, the cubs, inspired by a visit to their grandparents and a view of the older bears’ scrapbook, make a similar book for Mama, including pictures of “all the things that Mama would want to remember about her cubs growing up.” And of course Mama says it is “the most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I have ever gotten!” The cubs think of making a scrapbook for Papa, too – but Father’s Day comes later than Mother’s Day, and Brother Bear reminds Sister Bear that they “just gave Mama an album like that.” So the cubs, noticing that Papa is always doing work around the house, decide to make him “gift certificates” that he can redeem to have them do the chores. They follow him around, taking note of the many things he does, and give him a day off for Father’s Day – but it isn’t quite a day off, because the cubs can’t really get things done as well as Papa does, and they keep needing his help. This does not bother him at all: “I’m getting bored just watching TV. It’s more fun doing things with you.” So everyone works together, and then plays together, and Father’s Day proves to be as big a success as Mother’s Day was. As always, the Berenstain Bears books are old-fashioned and perhaps a little too perfectly pulled together for all tastes, but kids and parents who like the characters will certainly enjoy joining them for this latest seasonal celebration.

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