April 24, 2014

(++++) ANTICS

Rosie & Rex: A Nose for Fun! By Bob Boyle. Harper. $15.99.

Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail. By James Horvath. Harper. $15.99.

Pete the Cat: Old MacDonald Had a Farm. By James Dean. Harper. $9.99.

     Animals and animal-like critters find all sorts of interesting things to do in these books for ages 4-8. Best friends Rosie and Rex want nothing more than to play together, but they cannot decide whether to play “robot invasion” or “princess ballerina tea party” – the problem being, as Rosie says, that “robots are not fun.” But they are fun for Rex, who keeps suggesting new things to do that involve robots – to no avail. It takes the sudden appearance of a mysterious object that could be “a vase for pretty-pretty flowers” or “a cool robot blaster” to start solving the how-can-we-have-fun problem. The friends keep trying to figure out what the object is – bird feeder? robot telescope? – until out of nowhere (well, actually from the right side of the page), someone appears who knows just what the object is and just what it would be fun to do. The result is a “princess ballerina robot tea party” that makes everybody happy and confirms that robots can indeed be fun – under the right circumstances. Bob Boyle’s whole story is silly enough and amusingly enough illustrated to captivate boy and girl readers alike.

     Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail, the followup to James Horvath’s Dig, Dogs, Dig, is captivating in its own way. Like the earlier book, Build, Dogs, Build is a reasonably realistic story of how the construction industry works – to create a park in the earlier book, a skyscraper in this new one. The workers are all dogs: foreman Duke and Roxy, Buddy, Max, Spot, and Spike – plus the crew mascot, Jinx (a cat, which somehow makes sense). And these dogs work mighty quickly indeed, taking young readers through all the stages of construction in what seems to be a one-day journey from old building to spanking new “Bark Avenue” skyscraper, topped with a penthouse that is labeled “The Pethouse.” The dogs knock down a crumbling old building, clear the lot where it stood, have a quick snack at the “Hot Diggity Dog” food wagon, and then start constructing.  That means beginning underground with pipes, in one of Horvath’s best drawings – there are dinosaur bones down there, a broken old statue, a pirate’s treasure chest, and other artifacts, and the pipes do not always seem to run the way they should (although of course the crew takes care of everything). Then the dogs pour the building’s foundation, build its entire steel skeleton, narrowly avoid a collision as they bring in glass for the windows, and take a break for some much-needed relaxation to chase and gather all the balls being transported by the truck that almost (but not quite) collides with the panes of glass. Back at work, the dogs act as “electricians, plumbers, and carpenters too,” creating the skyscraper’s innards and its outer walls at the same time – then moving into lights, fixtures, paint and the rest of the finishing. Everything is done remarkably easily and smoothly – real-world construction should go so well! – and eventually the dogs relax in the newly built rooftop swimming pool to get ready for whatever job they will do the next day. The book’s frantic pace, bright colors, ever-cooperative characters and underlying reality of how tall buildings are constructed add up to multi-level fun.

     Pete the Cat gets out of the city altogether in James Dean’s latest book about the big-eyed feline – a (+++) version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm that would have been more fun if it had done something beyond offering a recitation of the old song. It initially looks as if it will do just that – the turtle on the opening page of lyrics has possibilities – but in reality, all Dean does here is have Pete, dressed in bib overalls, strum a guitar and go see all the animals on the farm: chickens, dogs, cows, pigs, horses and so forth. Pete does not really interact with any of them – not even with the cats – so the book will be enjoyable primarily for Pete fans who know the song and want to see Pete (and the turtle) on every page, with Pete in a pickup truck or on a tractor or riding a donkey or just strolling around. The last page, showing all the animals surrounding Pete (even the turtle, which is never actually mentioned), is an amusing conclusion; but except for the usual enjoyment value of Dean’s drawing style for animal after animal, this is one of the less-attractive of the Pete the Cat books, simply because there is so little of Pete’s personality in it. Pete’s fans will certainly enjoy it, though, particularly those on the younger end of the 4-8 age range.

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