October 24, 2013


Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. By Kimberly and James Dean. Illustrated by James Dean. Harper. $17.99.

Fancy Nancy: Apples Galore! By Jane O’Connor. Illustrations by Ted Enik. Harper. $16.99.

Fancy Nancy: Budding Ballerina. By Jane O’Connor. Illustrations by Carolyn Bracken. HarperFestival. $3.99.

One Direction: Where We Are—Our Band, Our Story. Harper. $21.99.

     Here are some books aimed squarely at existing fan bases – not deep, not at the height of the authors’ creativity, but certainly enjoyable for those who just cannot get enough of the characters, human and otherwise. “Otherwise” would include Pete the Cat, the sad-eyed but usually peppy creation of Kimberly and James Dean, whose adventure in Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses is nothing particularly special but will be amusing for kids in the target age range of 4-8 – especially the younger half of that age grouping. The whole story here involves “COOL, BLUE, MAGIC sunglasses” that cheer Pete up when he is feeling down – after he gets them from Grumpy Toad, who is not grumpy on this particular day, thanks to the sunglasses. Pete feels much better with the glasses on, and goes along using them to cheer up Squirrel, Turtle and Alligator. Upon donning the sunglasses, each character proclaims in identical language how good things now seem – the exact repetition is one reason the book will appeal mainly to very young readers – and each finishes the comment with a grammatically incorrect, “I’m feeling ALRIGHT!”  Surely it would not have hurt the Deans to make that word, correctly, into two, ALL RIGHT. But instead it is emphasized, in capital letters, in all its incorrect glory, repeatedly. Ah well. As for the story, Pete eventually breaks the glasses, but then finds out that he didn’t need them anyway: Wise Old Owl tells him, “‘Just remember to look for the good in every day.’” This is a little sappy and not at all surprising, but it buttons up the book nicely enough, and the final illustration – showing all the characters on skateboards except for Grumpy Toad, who is riding a motorcycle – is a high point. The final non-word, “ALRIGHT,” is not.

     The verbiage is just fine, if not quite as fancy as usual, in two spinoffs of the Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser – who does the covers for both these books, but not the interior illustrations. Fancy Nancy is a wonderful character, bubbly and ebullient and enamored of all things French and of all sorts of big words. Her personality is shrunken somewhat in these two books, though, because they are designed for early readers – again, ages 4-8, with special appeal, most likely, to those in the younger half of that age spread. Apples Galore! is a Level 1 book in the “I Can Read!” series – written with “simple sentences for eager new readers,” like other books at the same level. There are a few slightly fancy words here – autumn, orchard, tasty – but they are scarcely at Nancy’s usual “fanciness” level, which would not work for this age group. Nancy herself narrates the book but is not its focus: a troublemaking classmate, Lionel, is the central character, “crying wolf” repeatedly during a field trip and then getting into some real (but mild) trouble requiring a rescue by Nancy and Ms. Glass, the kids’ teacher. Nancy herself is a more-attractive central character than she has a chance to be here. She is at the center of Budding Ballerina, but her at-home performance focuses as much on her dad’s clumsiness as on Nancy herself – again, a bit of a miscalculation in terms of the book’s structure. In fact, Glasser’s cover – showing Nancy, her little sister, JoJo, and the family dog, Frenchy – portrays a more-interesting scene than anything that actually happens in the story. Nancy and ballet would seem to go well together – Nancy’s fondness for tutus is one element of her considerable charm – but this tale falls a bit flat, even though it does contain, of necessity, some “fancy” ballet terms (en pointe, arabesque, pirouette and others).

     Well, there is certainly no question about where the focus is in the thick and handsome hardcover, One Direction: Where We Are—Our Band, Our Story. This is strictly, 100% for devoted fans of Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan and Zayn Malik. The band members may or may not have had something to do with writing the book – no author is credited, but there is a legal statement to the effect that “One Direction assert the moral right to be identified as the authors of this work.” There’s not all that much to the writing, in any case – no one is going to buy this book for the deathless prose or the entirely ordinary comments: “We’ve been so lucky because we’ve been able to go to some incredible places.” “Wherever we go the fans are always amazing, and they mean everything to us.” “I think with every album we get more and more confident with our sound.” No, the words are not the thing here – the photos are what fans will want. And there are lots and lots of them, serious ones and clowning ones, on-stage ones and behind-the-scenes ones, ones of the band performing and ones of its members relaxing, ones of fans (including a delightful one of two teenage girls flanking their grandmother, or maybe great-grandmother, who is proudly wearing a “One Direction” T-shirt) and ones of instruments. The extreme closeups will let fans gaze longingly at their personal favorite heartthrob, and the smiles and laughter shown repeatedly in group and individual photos will let fans fantasize about how wonderful the band’s life must be. Bands like One Direction come and go, often going even more quickly than they arrive – especially in our media-saturated age, when the next big thing always waits just around the corner to displace the current big thing. Still, One Direction fans who are living strictly in the here-and-now, and want a great big souvenir of this particular time over which they can ooh and aah, will not be one bit disappointed in One Direction: Where We Are—Our Band, Our Story. And of course, they alone are the people for whom the book was created and, like the band itself, neatly packaged.

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