July 23, 2015


Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man. By Cornelius Van Wright. Nancy Paulsen Books. $16.99.

Little Miss, Big Sis. By Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Harper. $17.99.

Dilly Dally Daisy. By Mark Fearing. Dial. $16.99.

     The hilarity never quite overshadows the underlying story of camaraderie in Cornelius Van Wright’s wonderful Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man. A great blend of backyard playtime with a large dose of imagination and a touch of magic, the book features two boys who delight in striking superhero poses – presumably based on their favorite TV show, to which the book refers several times – while fighting off villains made from old boxes, tires, vacuum cleaners and the like. Van Wright’s imagination parallels that of his protagonists as he creates “Baddie Boxman,” “Scetti da Strainer,” “Deter von Tergent,” “Phat Tyre” and other scowling villains that appear on the inside front covers – although only a few of them figure in the story. The inside back covers get representations of Bucky and Stu’s “Power Moves,” such as “Perimetric Defense Stance 360,” in which you “strike this pose to cover your partner’s back while looking totally cool!” Again, not all the moves show up in the story – making the inside covers, both front and back, into bonus material. The story itself has twists and turns beyond those of the two boys and their “wonk ’em time” battle cry. Right in the midst of the friends’ encounter with the evildoers, Stu’s stomach gurgles so loudly that he superheroically walks away from the fray, saying, “Stu hungry. Stu needs snack.” Later, fed and fit again, Stu finds out about Bucky’s secret project: the creation of the Mikanikal Man, thrown together with Uncle Ernie’s help from cycle fenders, a damaged computer, a laser tube, an iron, and other odds and ends. The magic comes in when the Mikanikal Man comes to life, the boys battle him “with great bravery…but to no avail,” and then it turns out that the Mikanikal Man has something in common with Stu: a gurgling stomach. Solving that, they also solve the problem of what to do with Bucky’s creation: turn him into an ally instead of an opponent. The friendship of Bucky and Stu is so strong that it can easily grow to encompass a third battling buddy, even one that needs “batteries, tubes and anything else they can find” to feed him. A marvelous blend of absurdity with folksy charm, drawn in a unique style whose emphasis on superhero posturings is as funny as anything that happens to the characters, Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man will delight rambunctious boys in its target age range of 5-9.

     For slightly younger children, ages 4-8 – and clearly aimed at girls – Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Little Miss, Big Sis has warmth and cleverness of its own, but is much more homespun, although there is plenty of action in it. The book, whose clever and very appropriate illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds are a big part of its charm, starts with Little Miss eagerly anticipating the arrival of her new sister – only to discover that what infants do is “Sleep. Fuss. Eat. Repeat.” But despite the drooling and crying and diapering and all the other chores the new baby brings, Little Miss retains her optimistic viewpoint and her obvious love for her small sibling. Rosenthal tells the story in the simplest possible language: “Hugging, holding. Love unfolding.” And soon, very soon, Reynolds shows the baby growing bigger, learning to walk and play and exhaust Little Miss and become an irritant from time to time: “Sure, sometimes takes toys. And sometimes annoys.” But none of these bumps in the road of family life cause problems for long, as Little Miss – who is too good to be true, but an absolutely wonderful role model – sticks to her determination to be the baby’s best friend, not just her big sib. Family life will never be as idyllic or trouble-free as Rosenthal and Reynolds make it out to be here, but this is the sort of unreality that is most welcome in stressed and time-pressed real-world families: a pleasant interlude in everyone’s super-busy day, and the portrait of a wished-for relationship toward which real-world big sisters will likely enjoy striving.

     The real world is a bit too much for Daisy Marsha Martin in Mark Fearing’s all-too-recognizable tale of Dilly Dally Daisy. This story is aimed at even younger kids than Little Miss, Big Sis: ages 3-5. But most of them will be too young to read the book, whose writing is rather extensive and complex for this age group. That means this is a book for parents to read to children – and a big dose of humor in doing that is called for. Any family with a dawdler in it will appreciate (or recognize, if not necessarily appreciate) the trials and tribulations Daisy’s family goes through as Daisy comes up with reason after reason after reason to be late: playing with her little brother instead of brushing her hair, “going up the stairs like a cat” instead of walking quickly so she can get ready for school, trying to figure out what to do for a bathing suit when she discovers that her favorite one is currently being worn by Penny Penguin, and on and on and on. And on. Again and again, Daisy means well, and again and again, she is determined to do what she has to in order to be on time: “’I can do this,’ she declares.” But the world conspires against her, whether in the form of a too-tight shirt or of shorts that are only fun to put on if you dance while doing so. What Fearing manages to do so well here is to make Daisy not only lovable but also understandable – parents of dawdlers, take note! At the very end of the book, there is a wonderful reversal of sorts when it turns out that Daisy has indeed managed to be on time for the swimming lessons that are so important to her – but there is a slight seasonal miscalculation affecting the outcome of her triumphant on-time performance. In everyday life, there is nothing funny for parents when a child is perennially late. But there is a lot that is funny in Dilly Dally Daisy. Perhaps parents reading the book to their own always-late children will realize just how distracting life can be to kids such as Daisy – and perhaps a real-world Daisy or two will understand how frustrating their behavior can be for parents, resulting in their trying really hard to be at least a little more frequently on time.

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