November 27, 2013


Fossil. By Bill Thomson. Two Lions. $17.99.

Charlie the Ranch Dog: Charlie’s Snow Day. Based on the books by Ree Drummond and Diane deGroat. Harper. $16.99.

Zoomer’s Out-of-This-World Christmas. By Ned Young. Harper. $17.99.

Biscuit’s Christmas Storybook Collection. By Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Pictures by Pat Schories. Harper. $11.99.

     Whether in a wordless “anytime” story or in seasonally focused books, dogs provide a wonderful way to connect kids to the events happening around them. Bill Thomson’s Fossil is simply about a boy and dog walking by a lake – until things become anything but simple after the boy trips while holding a rock, the rock shatters, the fossil of a fern appears inside the stone, and then the fern starts growing. Reality and fantasy blend seamlessly as the boy finds another rock, this one containing a fossilized dragonfly, and again the fossil comes to life; and then a third rock reveals the claw of a pteranodon, and sure enough, the flying reptile appears in the sky – and soon the dog is riding on its back. The boy finally figures out a way to restore present-day reality, leaving himself and the dog happy at the lakeside – although some young readers may be disappointed at the boy’s ready abandonment of a world filled with wonders from the past. Thomson’s elegant paintings, done by hand rather than computer, lend solidity and vitality to Fossil, as they did to his previous book, Chalk. This is a tale of marvels for ages 3-7, told both strikingly and artfully.

     Charlie’s Snow Day, created by Amanda Glickman and Rick Whipple from the “Charlie the Ranch Dog” stories of Ree Drummond and Diane deGroat, is a Level 1 book (“Beginning Reading”) in the I Can Read! series, and as such emphasizes words rather than pictures and is intended for ages 4-8. This level is described as having “simple sentences for eager new readers,” and that is just what Charlie’s Snow Day provides. The story is an everyday sort of outdoor tale, made amusing by Charlie’s usual personality quirks: he first enjoys sliding down a big hill in the snow, but then gets tired when climbing back up and decides that all he wants is to return to the ranch house and get warm. Then, though, he notices that his companion dog, Walter, has gone down the hill again – and Charlie concludes that Walter may be buried in the snow and in need of rescuing. This turns out, like so many of Charlie’s analyses, to be somewhat “off,” although it does get Charlie to go down the hill again and dig into a mound of snow where Walter has ended up. Eventually Charlie gets a ride back up the hill, courtesy of his human family – so he can get back to the warmth and relaxation that he loves so much. Easy to read and pleasantly warmhearted, Charlie’s Snow Day is a (+++) book that will be fun for kids who already know Charlie the Ranch Dog and are primed to enjoy him in a wintry setting.

     A (++++) seasonal book for the same 4-8 age range, Ned Young’s Zoomer’s Out-of-This-World Christmas is all about Zoomer the dog and his big brothers, Hooper and Cooper, watching for Santa Claus the day before Christmas – when, sure enough, something lands in the back yard of their house. But it isn’t Santa’s sleigh – it’s a spaceship! And out comes a friendly space family with a pet called a “yarple-headed gigantaziller,” which is purple and has a trunk like an elephant’s, plus lots of legs. Soon the space family has invited the dogs to a picnic at which “kookaloon sandwiches, zablookee salad” and other delicacies are on the menu. Then everyone plays a robot-intensified game that is sort of like soccer, and then everybody goes for a swim (despite the time of year) after the aliens create “a force-field swimming pool.” Unfortunately, the spaceship turns out to have been damaged in landing, and the only way to fix it is for Zoomer to let the aliens have his favorite toy, his tricycle – which he does. Much later, after the spaceship’s takeoff and the pups’ Earth dinner, night of sleep and Christmas-morning awakening, Zoomer learns that Santa was aware of his good deed on behalf of the aliens and has brought him something special as a result – a happy ending all around for an unusual Christmas-themed story in which the highly amusing illustrations (including alien-related ones that owe a distinct debt to Dr. Seuss) neatly complement the narrative.

     The pictures are far more straightforward and the stories far more earthbound in the nine-tale collection called Biscuit’s Christmas Storybook Collection. The stories in this (+++) book were originally published between 2000 and 2011 and are only partially Christmas-themed. Alyssa Satin Capucilli offers not only Biscuit’s Christmas, Biscuit’s Christmas Eve and Biscuit Gives a Gift but also nonseasonal stories, including Biscuit’s Show and Share Day, Biscuit Wants to Play, Biscuit Visits the Big City, Biscuit’s Snowy Day, Biscuit and the Lost Teddy Bear, and Biscuit Goes to School. These are very simply plotted and written stories, much in the mode of the old Dick-and-Jane “easy readers,” a parallel that extends to Pat Schories’ pleasant, rather old-fashioned illustrations. The writing will likely be too repetitious for all but the youngest children: “The little boy lost his teddy bear, Biscuit, but you found it! Woof, woof!” “Here comes the school bus! Woof, woof!” “Stay with me, Biscuit. It’s very busy in the big city! Woof, woof!” “Woof, woof, woof! Biscuit can help the kittens!” Biscuit is a cute puppy in that roly-poly way in which puppies were drawn for kids’ books decades ago, and the simplistic suburban back-yard adventures he has with his family will be enjoyable for pre-readers and perhaps for children just learning to read. The official target age range for the book is 4-8, but it will be far too easy for most children in the upper part of that range. Indeed, even parents of younger kids should not be surprised if they quickly lose interest in Biscuit and outgrow these simple, mild little tales.

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