October 23, 2014

(++++) FOWL PLAY

A New Chick for Chickies. By Janee Trasler. HarperFestival. $8.99.

Dodsworth in Tokyo. By Tim Egan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $3.99.

     The latest of Janee Trasler’s books about three adorable chicks and the “adult” pig, cow and sheep who take care of them ups the ante for babies and grown-up animals alike: a new chick hatches, followed in short order by jealousy. “Get your feathers off our pig,” say the three original chickies as the pig and the new baby brother dance together. Pig quickly defuses the situation by inviting everyone to form a conga line. But then the original chickies object to the new one throwing a beach ball to the cow – so the cow forms a beach-ball team that includes everybody. And then: “No more singing! Not one peep! We sing backup for our sheep!” So say the original chicks – but the sheep sets up a five-piece band so everyone can take part in the musical merry-making. Problems noted, problems explored, problems solved, all within the two dozen pages of an attractive and sturdy board book. That, is, problems almost solved, because Trasler ends the book with – oops! – not one but several additional chicks hatching. Now what? Presumably kids, certainly including big brother and big sisters, will find out in the next adventure of the chickies.

     The adventures continue for world-traveling Dodsworth and the duck in a Level 3 edition of Dodsworth in Tokyo, an entry in the “Green Light Readers” series (with this level, the highest, designated for “reading independently”). Tim Egan builds the whole book, which was originally published last year, around the duck’s now-well-known propensity for getting into all sorts of trouble. Dodsworth worries about this from the start of the book, noting that “Japan is a land of customs and manners and order” but that “the duck wasn’t very good at those things.” The duck, of course, promises to be on his best behavior, but Dodsworth keeps a very close eye on him and repeatedly reminds him of the right way to behave – and, surprisingly, the duck does quite well. But Dodsworth is sure, as readers will be, that this cannot go on forever, and that is the tension in this modest, well-told story, which as usual features reasonably accurate depictions of various locations that Dodsworth and the duck visit. The duck becomes fascinated by a toy called a kendama – a ball attached by a string to a cup – and proves highly skilled at cupping the ball, which Dodsworth himself cannot manage to do. A little girl leaves her kendama behind in a park, and Dodsworth and the duck wait for her to return so they can give it to her, but to no avail; so they take it with them on the rest of their tour. Part of the fun here involves how un-ducklike the duck is: Dodsworth has to rescue him from water at one point, since he cannot swim. The duck cannot fly, either, and that fact is what Egan uses to bring the good-behavior and kendama stories together in an amusingly appropriate climax. And yes, eventually of course the duck makes a huge mess, as young readers will have anticipated all along, but it all happens in so good-humored a way that even Dodsworth finds himself laughing. Kids will laugh along with him.

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