September 26, 2013


Where’s Boo? By Salina Yoon. Random House. $6.99.

Absolutely Lucy 6: Thanks to Lucy. By Ilene Cooper. Illustrated by David Merrell. Random House. $4.99.

The Christmas ABC. By Florence Johnson. Illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Golden Books. $3.99.

     Seasonal books tied to specific holidays are certainly common enough, but sometimes a book that downplays the holiday connection is all the better for it – and may continue to be of interest to families after the holiday itself is over. That is the case with Salina Yoon’s adorable board book, Where’s Boo? The black kitten of the title has a long tail, which shows on the final page of the book through a semicircular cutout that makes the tail – or at least the tail’s shape – a part of every one of the book’s pages. Yes, there is a bat on the cover and all the pages, and yes, the orange-and-black colors and opening reference to a jack-o’-lantern make the Halloween tie-in clear, but Yoon’s book manages to transcend seasonality simply by being clever and adorable. The idea is to find Boo after thinking mistakenly that the kitten is in several incorrect places. Boo is not behind the jack-o’-lantern – what looks like a tail is a candle holder. Not behind the cookie jar – that’s one leg of a very large (but smiling) spider. Not behind the broom – that is the fancy brim of a witch’s hat. Eventually, of course, Boo is found, complete with tail and costume and friendly accompanying ghosts. The book is Halloween-focused throughout but is still amusing enough in itself to be fun for kids after the holiday is over.

     Not so Thanks to Lucy, a (+++) book that is a straightforward Thanksgiving story and the sixth in Ilene Cooper’s Absolutely Lucy series. The plot involves the approach of the holiday and all the things that Bobby is thankful for – his grandma’s pending visit, his mom’s pumpkin pies, the fact that he will soon be a big brother, and of course Lucy. He is especially thankful for her. But Lucy herself does not seem very thankful – in fact, she is quiet and seems to be moping. Lucy is usually an active, bouncy puppy, so when her too-quiet behavior continues, Bobby decides something may really be wrong, and goes with her to the vet. Sure enough, she has an infection, and even the vet visit turns out to have a connection to the holiday, as the doctor explains: “It’s a good thing you brought Lucy in when you did. The office is closing for the Thanksgiving holiday.” The book’s climax is not Lucy’s recovery, which is scarcely a surprise, but what happens when Bobby’s mom gives birth – which is a surprise, and which leads to some big changes for Bobby and is sure, he knows, to lead to more. With an all-better Lucy as a companion, though, Bobby knows everything will turn out fine, so the book has the expected heartwarming ending both in the story and in David Merrell’s pictures, which show Lucy back to her old enthusiastic self. This is a perfectly nice Thanksgiving tale that fans of the series will enjoy, but once their focus turns to Christmas, it will likely turn away from Thanks to Lucy.

     And speaking of Christmas, the reissue of Florence Johnson’s 1962 The Christmas ABC is 100% intended for reading at or near the holiday. A straightforward rhyming book whose text and Eloise Wilkins illustrations are pleasant enough but somewhat dated by modern standards, this (+++) book has a stronger religious message than alphabet and other secular books have nowadays. It is not just the J entry: “J is for Jesus,/ Who was born Christmas Day,/ The baby God sent us/ to teach us His way.” The approach is clear from the very first page: “A is for angels/ Looking down from above,/ Guardians of Heaven/ That sing of God’s love.” The capital letters throughout the book look a bit like the ones in illuminated manuscripts, further connecting this book to religious messages. True, there is plenty that is secular here as well: “I is for icicles/ that shine in the sun/ And ice on the pond/ where skaters have fun.” And, of course, “S is for Santa Claus,/ Stockings and Sleigh,/ And all of the things/ that make Christmas day gay.” But even that perfectly legitimate use of “gay” may be jarring to today’s families, given the more-common current use of “gay” to mean “homosexual.” The Christmas ABC is really a throwback in time, pleasant enough in its stylized way and probably of interest mainly to families that want to be sure the religious underpinnings of Christmas are not forgotten in the wave of commercialization that seems to characterize so much of the season. The book is certainly not one with 21st-century mass appeal – nor is it a work that will have staying power beyond the holiday for which it was written half a century ago.

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