July 16, 2015


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

Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat. By Eileen Christelow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus. By James Dean. Harper. $6.99.

Pete the Cat’s Train Trip. By James Dean. Harper. $16.99.

     Janee Trasler’s adorable chickies are back for some sorely needed baths in their latest padded-board-book adventure, Bathtime for Chickies – which is so much fun that it can be a great way to get the youngest kids interested in taking their baths. The chickies keep finding new ways to get dirty, but repeatedly insist that they really do not need a bath – not even when Pig finds them covered with mud, Cow smells them after they have played with perfumes and cosmetics, and Sheep discovers them covered with pink and green cupcake frosting. Each time the “adult” animals try to get the chickies clean, the little ones start by protesting – for example, “No thanks, Pig. No bath today. We’d really rather stay and play.” Then the chickies give in, taking their bath and having so much fun that they refuse to get out – they want more toys, more bubbles, more of anything to prolong bath time. But then: “Once they’re clean and fluffy, too, what will little chickies  do?” Why, they will get dirty all over again, of course! How will Trasler end this merry-go-round of dirt and cleanliness? Clearly there is only one way out, and she takes it: the “grown-up” animals realize that getting dirty can be fun, and they join the chickies in a big muddy field. Playful and always amusing, Bathtime for Chickies shows yet again that Trasler’s chicks have something both funny and instructive to show and tell the youngest children.

     There is a lesson in Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat – a 2013 release now available in board-book format – as well. Eileen Christelow’s characters decide that Halloween time gives them a perfect chance to play a great trick on their favorite babysitter, Lulu, who is there to take them trick-or-treating. The five little monkeys dress as a banana, an alien, a ghost, a goblin and a princess – but they realize that no one can really see who is inside which costume. That gives them a chance to exchange costumes with their friends: “Everyone will be SO confused!” And, indeed, this works for a while, as the alien costume is exchanged for a bunny costume and the alien monkey is replaced by an alien tiger. Then the banana switches with a TV set, and so on and so forth, until all five little monkeys have switched costumes and the original banana, alien, ghost, goblin and princess costumes are now being worn by five non-monkeys. But Lulu soon catches on, although she plays along for a while – until she takes the five NOT little monkeys home for a treat, leaving the now-differently-dressed monkeys kind of worried and wondering what to do. So the monkeys come home, but Mama says her costumes are in the house already – worrying the little monkeys even more. The joke has gone too far! But then, of course, everything is revealed, everyone has a good laugh, and everyone settles down to a suitably Halloween-y snack of “eyeballs and worm juice” (with recipes included at the back of the book).

     A different recurring character, Pete the Cat, is at the center of another new board book that is also based on an original from 2013. This is Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus. Here, James Dean uses the words of the familiar song, “The Wheels on the Bus,” as an excuse to show Pete, other cats and a dog riding in a school bus that does all the things the song describes: the horn beeps, the wipers swish, the signals blink, the motor zooms, and so on. Huge-eyed (and always rather sleepy-looking) Pete is a perfectly fine bus driver, not rattled at all even though the kitties on the bus say, “Come on, Pete!” all day long. The words of the song may not be quite what all parents remember, especially for the illustration in which the dog has taken over as bus driver while Pete sits atop the bus, electric guitar in his paws, and the cats are shouting “Let’s rock out!” (all day long). As an enjoyable variation on a well-known school-related song, Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus has plenty of enthusiasm and will be a nice way to introduce the youngest children to the sloe-eyed cat whose adventures always include some musical elements.

     For kids who enjoy Pete as a character and are just beyond the board-book stage, Pete the Cat’s Train Trip makes a good introduction to narrative stories. This is a “My First” book (“ideal for sharing with emergent readers”) in the I Can Read! series, which means the story is very simple, the sentences are short, and the print is large enough to be easily followed by kids just coming out of the pre-reader stage. What happens here is simply that Pete, his mom, and his brother, Bob, take the train to visit Pete’s grandmother – and Pete learns a bit about the train by following the conductor through the different cars and eventually meeting the engineer. Pete makes some new friends, who live in different towns and are getting off at different stops, and they all entertain each other in various ways – with Pete, inevitably, singing a song. Then the train reaches Pete’s stop, the family gets off, and everyone says hello to Pete’s grandma, to whom Pete gives a drawing of a caboose. Pete is not a particularly engaging character – there is not all that much personality to him – but he is likable enough, and kids who enjoy him in board-book form may like encountering him in an early-reader format as well.

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