January 02, 2014


Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket. By Tatyana Feeney. Knopf. $6.99.

The Crayon Box That Talked. By Shane DeRolf. Illustrated by Michael Letzig. Random House. $6.99.

How to Be a Pirate. By Sue Fliess. Illustrated by Nikki Dyson. Golden Books. $3.99.

How Do Lions Say I Love You? By Diane Muldrow. Illustrated by David Walker. Golden Books. $3.99.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Retold by Jane Werner. Illustrated by Sheilah Beckett. Golden Books. $3.99.

     Board books for the youngest children, up to age three, and the well-known line of Little Golden Books for slightly older kids, are not only designed for enjoyment. Many have a great number of different messages to communicate. The board-book version of Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket, Tatyana Feeney’s delightful look at the relationship between a little bunny and his must-have blankie, is as much fun as the original, published in 2012. It shows all the things that Blue Blanket “helps” Small Bunny do: paint pictures, read books, play in the sandbox, and more. But when Mommy says both Small Bunny and Blue Blanket need a bath – uh oh! “Small Bunny thought Blue Blanket was perfect the way it was.” Mommy disagrees and insists on washing bunny and blanket, the former in the tub and the latter in a washing machine that runs for 107 minutes – during all of which Small Bunny watches and waits. Eventually Blue Blanket is all clean, which is exactly what Small Bunny does not want, so he promptly sets about restoring his blankie to the way he likes it – with plenty of “swinging, painting, reading and playing.” The littlest children will enjoy the simple but amusing drawings here as they learn about a bunny who – perhaps just like them – has a special bond with a blankie, but has to learn to separate from it now and then.

     The lesson is a broader one and somewhat more heavy-handed in The Crayon Box That Talked, Shane DeRolf’s 1997 book that is now available in board-book form. The rhyming story, and the illustrations by Michael Letzig, are all about diversity and the importance of cooperating and working together. In a toy store, a little girl overhears a box of crayons squabbling, with certain colors saying they simply don’t like others and don’t want anything to do with them, for no apparent reason. So the girl buys the crayons and uses them – all of them – to produce a picture to which they all contribute. And sure enough, when the picture is finished, all the colors appreciate each other, noticing how each has a place in the overall scheme of things and deserves as much respect and liking as every other one. This strong “message” book lays things on a bit too thickly for all but the youngest children – but that makes it particularly effective in board-book format, since board books are targeted at kids whose age makes them least likely to bristle at the obviousness of the message.

     The messages vary quite a bit in three (+++) Little Golden Books – and so do the books’ own ages. How to Be a Pirate is simply a romp, with Sue Fliess introducing kids ages 2-5 to silly pirates who teach pirate language, recommend parrots, show how to “do a jig in pirate pants,” and more. This all-new book is pure fun, the only aim of Fliess’ story and Nikki Dyson’s equally silly illustrations being to elicit some laughs and enjoyment – which the book does. Diane Muldrow aims for something a bit more meaningful in How Do Lions Say I Love You? Like other books in which anthropomorphic animals express human emotions, this one – originally published in 2009 – gently suggests parallels between animal behavior and human love. The David Walker illustrations follow Muldrow’s rhyming text closely: “Swans mate for life ’cause they’re truly love-struck,” for example, features swans with their heads together and their necks bent to form a heart. Giraffes are shown with necks entwined, wolves expressing themselves “with a howl and a huddle,” hens clucking, nightingales singing love songs, and so on. The book is pleasantly insubstantial, providing a nice opportunity for parents to discuss ways in which animals show human-like affection, or at least appear to do so. As for Sheilah Beckett’s illustrations for the classic Grimm fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, they exist primarily for fashion-conscious little girls: the rather grim story (which in the original has distinct sexual overtones) fades into the background in Jane Werner’s simplification, and the focus is on how the princesses dress as they go on their nightly underground adventures, where they dance with mysterious princes until the princesses wear out their shoes. There is significantly more narrative in this book than in How to Be a Pirate or How Do Lions Say I Love You? Thus, The Twelve Dancing Princesses will appeal more to children at the upper end of the 2-5 age range, while the other books will be of interest to younger readers and pre-readers. The elements that make the Grimm story attractive to older age groups, including the death of those who cannot discover where the princesses dance and the magical help given to the soldier who eventually solves the mystery, are downplayed here in favor of a focus on illustrations that have held up surprisingly well since this version of the story was first published as long ago as 1954. These three Little Golden Books will appeal to children with very different personalities – not so much offering something for everyone as presenting different things for children with very different interests.

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