May 02, 2013


Giddy-Up, Daddy! By Troy Cummings. Random House. $16.99.

My Mom Is the Best Circus. By Luciana Navarro Powell. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.

Lunch Lady No. 9: Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain. By Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Knopf. $6.99.

     Picture books in which the illustrations and text go together in just the right way are particularly enjoyable for young readers and parents, and one of the most enjoyable recent ones is Giddy-Up, Daddy! Troy Cummings takes a typical daddy-as-horsey scenario and spins it into a big, elaborate and extremely silly set of adventures all over the house, all over the country, all over North America – with all the far-flung adventures turning out to involve parts of the family’s back yard. This dad “was really good at playing horsey,” we learn at the start, being able to transport his wide-eyed and delighted kids on any surface and from any part of the house to any other part – and to accept on his back such objects as a cat, robot, fish bowl with fish, jack-in-the-box and more. What turns this into such a wonderful story is the notion of daddy as horsey, being lured by horse rustlers using sugar lumps as bait so they can lasso him and steal him. And then begins a frantic chase as the kids pursue rustlers and “horsey” to a rodeo, recapture daddy, and set off for a circus with the bad guys in hot pursuit. A horsey-high-wire act (with rustlers still hot on the horsey’s trail) turns into a spectacular acrobatic performance, a round of polo, a stint in a horse race, and a trip to Canada, as Cummings becomes ever more inventive and the book gets ever sillier and more elaborate. Eventually the kids transform themselves into Canadian Mounties and capture the rustlers (one of which, by the way, is a bear), and there is a big parade in the good guys’ honor, and finally Cummings shows the entire small back yard in which this very big day of enjoyment has taken place. And he neatly implies that another adventure – this one with the kids’ mom – is now in the offing. Delightful.

     Adventure with mom is the whole point of My Mom Is the Best Circus, a well-told and well-drawn board book in which Luciana Navarro Powell turns aspects of everyday life into entertainment. An ever-smiling, ever-perky mom leads her kids out of bed in the morning, performs breakfast rather than merely cooking it, tames laundry, impresses the kids by walking on stilts (high-heeled shoes), and zooms out the front door as if on a flying trapeze. Powell does not say or show who takes care of the kids while mom is away, but both children are bright-eyed and happy when she returns – still perky, still smiling, still in a great mood – leading to the proclamation, “My mom is the best circus, from sunrise to sundown.” Later pages show mom as magician (revealing food she has prepared), as clown (wearing a clown nose to make it easier to treat a boo-boo), and being an acrobat as she plays on the floor with the kids. Eventually, after reading the children a story, mom puts them to bed (“the sandman show”), and it is only then that she shows any sign of tiredness, falling asleep beside one child’s bed. This mom is an impossible act for real-world mothers (or fathers) to follow, but her liveliness is infectious, and the great fun she and the kids have together can be inspirational for parents who do not try to emulate her activities too closely.

     No one in the real world is going to duplicate what Lunch Lady does in her ninth adventure, Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain, in which Jarrett J. Krosoczka makes things a bit more complicated and a bit weirder than usual by having three stories going at the same time. One involves Lunch Lady trying to track down the person who has been stealing technology devices from people all over the school. A second has to do with Hector Muñoz running for student body president against the jock and bully, Chris Milmoe. And the third is about an upcoming visit by a new tough-as-nails school superintendent. Unfortunately, all this material does not fit into a single book, so Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain ends with a cliffhanger – something of a cheat for readers who have enjoyed earlier self-contained adventures. Furthermore, although the drawing is good and some elements of the book are as clever as always, such as Lunch Lady becoming a video game character in order to defeat the bad guy, there is almost nothing here of the food-based gadgetry that has made previous Lunch Lady books so enjoyably offbeat. And the book includes a reintroduction of material that dates all the way back to the first Lunch Lady book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, which means that kids who did not read that book or do not remember it will miss elements of what is going on. This is a (+++) book – just barely – because of the video game elements and some writing that is at Krosoczka’s usual well-paced level. But it is not as well-thought-out or well-executed as other books in this graphic-novel series – the pictures are fine, but the plot creaks. Hopefully there are tastier Lunch Lady adventures ahead.

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