July 03, 2014


Dinnertime for Chickies. By Janee Trasler. HarperFestival. $8.99.

Just Grace #12: Just Grace Gets Crafty. By Charise Mericle Harper. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $15.99.

     Sometimes inspiration strikes more than once. Or is it opportunity that knocks more than once? Either way, some authors of kids’ books seem to be adept at ringing new changes on their existing series well beyond what readers might expect – and readers get all the benefit from the ongoing creativity. Dinnertime for Chickies, which is really for pre-readers (although in theory for kids up to age four), is as much fun as the earlier Bedtime for Chickies and Pottytime for Chickies, as once again the three adorable chicks make life temporarily difficult for their “adult” caregivers, Sheep, Cow and Pig. In this book, they do that by initially refusing various foods offered for dinner. Macaroni and meatballs is “too drippy,” with the chicks insisting they want “something chippy” (presumably chocolate chippy) instead; tacos are “too spicy”; vegetables are “too chewy.” But the ever-patient bigger barnyard animals urge the chickies, each time, to try a single taste, and the chicks become immediate converts to every food – to such an extent that, when they are finally offered dessert, they have no room for it (but manage to find just a tiny bit of tummy space at the end!).  Janee Trasler’s verbal play here is especially enjoyable (“wash your wings and take a seat”), and her illustrations are a delight, from the chick covered in tomato sauce to the one wearing a napkin as a bandana to the chicks’ initial expressions of dislike and dismay (which quickly turn to ones of delight). Dinnertime for Chickies certainly has a message about being willing to try new foods – but beyond that, it is just plain fun to read and look at.

     The 12th – yes, 12th – of Charise Mericle Harper’s books about Grace Stewart (who got the name “Just Grace” when she tried to distinguish herself from other Graces in her class) is plenty of fun, too, and in fact is one of the best in this long-running series. Kids ages 6-10 (more or less) will enjoy the multiple plots here: a new crossing guard named Marie needs help making friends; a substitute teacher takes over Grace’s class; and Grace and Mimi are due to have their own table at the craft fair, for which they plan to make plenty of craft items to sell so they can earn enough money to visit the county fair – that is, if Grace can ever figure out how to sew (a task at which Mimi excels). The intricacies and minor complications of the related plots are neither more nor less surprising than in other Just Grace books, and neither are Grace’s observations: “Even if you like something, it does not always mean you want to do it five days in a row. That’s how I feel about school.”  But Harper’s illustrations this time – that is, the ones “by Grace” that, umm, grace every page – are what make this entry so much fun. There are the four “smiles that are not good” (the last being “evil villain smile”); the idea-generating flow chart that starts with a toaster and ends with a squirrel; the visual explanation of “single imagination” and “double imagination” when it comes to unicorns; the “zombie toast” character created by one of Grace’s classmates; the potential “pocket pals” that Grace imagines another classmate making, such as “talking dirt” and “bug with fourteen legs”; and many more. Grace’s usual headlines for sections of the book are as, errrr, graceful as usual: “What Was Disappointing,” “The Best Thing about the Dollar Store,” “The Thing That Happened During Lunch That We Didn’t See,” “What Can Speed By Super Fast and Is Not a Plane,” and so forth. True, it is clear from the start that the ever-clever Grace will eventually come up with a Big Idea that will make the craft fair a success – and not only for the girls themselves. But despite the fact that the plot has obvious elements and is sure to end with a typical Just Grace twist, the skillful interweaving of subjects and the even-more-fun-than-usual illustrations make Just Grace Gets Crafty a delightful series entry that proves that Harper has not yet run out of variations on this particular theme.

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