February 25, 2016
Girl & Gorilla: Out and About. By Rick Walton. Illustrated by Joe Berger. Harper. $17.99.
Goose Goes to the Zoo. By Laura Wall. Harper. $12.99.
Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs. By Linda Sue Park. Illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Clarion. $16.99.
Five Little Bunnies. Pictures by Dan Yaccarino. HarperFestival. $6.99.
You know where kids’ books are going, more or less, whenever they start with the sentence, “X and Y are best friends.” Rick Walton’s Girl & Gorilla: Out and About opens with, “Girl and Gorilla are best friends.” Laura Wall’s Goose Goes to the Zoo begins, “Sophie and Goose are best friends.” And away we go! Walton’s book features a city-dwelling, talking gorilla (well, why not?) who is inclined to temper tantrums when he and Girl run into difficulties on their way to play at the park. His solution to most problems involves doing something with his tail – using it as a jump rope, for instance, or turning it into string for a kite – until Girl points out, again and again, “You don’t have a tail.” After an unsuccessful attempt to ride to the park on Girl’s bike (they hit a trash can), Girl and Gorilla “walk and think and think and walk” as they come up with and discard various methods of getting where they want to go. Get there by playing hopscotch? Nope – hopping in one direction heads toward the park, but hopping the other way leads away from it. Close their eyes and wish? Doesn’t work. Ride an elephant? They don’t have one. But of course Girl and Gorilla are walking and thinking, which means that they eventually walk right to the park. Gorilla’s joy when he realizes that they have arrived is too big for one page: Joe Berger spreads the illustration across two, with Gorilla’s huge arm spread taking in most of both pages as Girl looks at him with quieter but no less sincere joy. Once in the park, Girl and Gorilla play hopscotch, jump rope, make wishes at a fountain, and even ride an elephant (well, an elephant-shaped slide). But now how will they get home? Even very young readers will know that they are simply going to walk – although Gorilla still hopes his (nonexistent) tail can help somehow. Throughout the book, no one finds the pairing of Girl and Gorilla strange or even gives Gorilla a second look – he is simply a playmate. How did Girl and Gorilla meet? How did they become friends? Walton and Berger say nothing and show nothing – readers just have to accept the reality of this unusual and warm friendship.
Wall does explain how Sophie’s friendship with Goose began, but not in her latest book, which is the third about this unlikely pair (after Goose and Goose Goes to School). The fact is, though, that the characters’ original meeting matters not at all here. What counts is that they are now best friends – but they cannot do everything together: for example, Goose at school did not work out at all, as Wall mentions in Goose Goes to the Zoo. Sophie feels bad that Goose is left alone during school hours, so she takes her friend to the zoo to look for another friend – one that Goose can play with while Sophie is in class. Unlike Gorilla, Goose does not talk, and except for his close friendship with Sophie, he behaves pretty much like a real goose. So his attempts to make friends with various zoo animals misfire: the giraffe is friendly but cannot fly, flamingos can presumably fly but just spend their time standing around, and a smiling crocodile is interested in Goose for all the wrong reasons (as a few flying feathers show). Eventually, though, Sophie and Goose find the perfect friends for Goose: other geese! And that is wonderful, except that – well, Goose fits in so well with those geese that Sophie wonders whether he will come back to her at all. Eventually, though, he does, and he brings all the other geese over to see her as well, because “there’s no friend quite like Sophie.” And another unlikely friendship passes another unlikely test.
Even more unlikely than these human-animal relationships are the things that happen in Linda Sue Park’s Yaks Yak. This is a very clever noun-and-verb-pairing book that never mentions parts of speech at all. Park simply uses various animal names to refer both to the animals and to something they are doing – and Jennifer Black Reinhardt makes sure that they are doing it (whatever it is) very amusingly. Park carefully defines each verb form: she explains that “to yak” means “to talk,” “to bug” (as in “Bugs bug bugs”) means “to annoy,” “to parrot” (as in “Parrots parrot”) means “to repeat,” and so on. Some of the pages are especially clever and especially funny. “Flounders flounder” (“to flounder = to be helpless”) is hilarious, with the flat-eyed bottom-dwellers trying to float or swim or something while saying, with words inside circles that look like bubbles, such things as “I did not mean to do that” and “I’m spinning out of control.” And “badgers badger” (“to badger = to bother repeatedly”) features one badger with an apple and another talking nonstop about wanting the apple and really wanting it and really wanting it and asking to have it and wishing to share it and maybe just getting a nibble and – well, and so forth. Clever in a different way is the “rams ram” entry (“to ram = to strike horizontally”), on which a ram is seen at the far right of the right-hand page saying “oops” because – as readers will see when they turn the page – he has accidentally rammed a duck, so the following phrase is, of course, “Duck, ducks!” Every entry here offers its own form of amusement, whether “steers steer” in bumper cars (“to steer = to guide”) or “crows crow” with a wide variety of forms of self-important self-praise (“to crow = to boast”). At the book’s very end, Park tells readers that the words are “homographs – words that are spelled and pronounced the same, but have different meanings,” and she even explains the derivation of the animal names and the actions that are spelled and said the same way. Yaks Yak is funny enough to read and re-read, and contains enough just-buried information to be a goes-down-easily learning experience for anyone so inclined.
There is not much to learn from Dan Yaccarino’s illustrations in Five Little Bunnies, an Easter-themed board book for the very youngest children (up to age four). But there is still plenty of fun to be found here. The five cartoon bunnies – blue, pink, yellow, orange and purple – scamper about a field until they find a good place to start hiding Easter eggs, and then they do just that, putting “striped ones, spotted ones – every kind” here and there. Then they watch as kids hunt for and find the eggs, eat the candy inside, and play outdoors – and then the bunnies, arrayed in a neat line, scamper down a convenient hillside and away. Very young children can play an egg-finding game with the book – the pictured kids are not seen locating all of them – and slightly older children can enjoy the easy writing, comfortable pacing and pleasantly rounded illustrations, including a neat one in which the bunnies’ heads are seen popping up to watch the children doing their egg collecting. Neither the plot of the book nor the personalities of the bunnies can match anything in Yaks Yak or the stories of Girl and Gorilla or Sophie and Goose, but within the limits of a short board book aimed at a very young readership, Five Little Bunnies has enough charm and cuteness to enthrall kids – and perhaps get them eventually interested in the antics of certain yaks, geese and gorillas.
Stick Dog Tries to Take the Donuts. By Tom Watson. Harper. $12.99.
The Dino Files 1: A Mysterious Egg. By Stacy McAnulty. Illustrations by Mike Boldt. Random House. $9.99.
Confidentially Yours #1: Brooke’s Not-So-Perfect Plan. By Jo Whittemore. Harper. $6.99.
Confidentially Yours #2: Vanessa’s Fashion Face-Off. By Jo Whittemore. Harper. $6.99.
Tom Watson manages both to continue an ongoing series and to start a brand-new one in Stick Dog Tries to Take the Donuts. The main part of the book is the fifth adventure of Stick Dog, the poorly-but-amusingly-drawn leader of a pack of five poorly-but-amusingly-drawn strays (the others being Poo-Poo, Stripes, Mutt and Karen). As in all the other books, the driving force here is food – not hot dogs, ice cream or pizza this time, but donuts (spelled that way) and, not incidentally, coffee, which Karen the dachshund tastes and which makes her considerably more hyper than usual (yes, it is possible). Indeed, “driving force” is a good phrase here, since the dogs’ encounter with donuts happens when they come upon a bucket truck, the kind used for repairing power lines, getting into trees, and doing other high-up things. And Stick Dog ends up driving it – not the truck but the bucket – several times. The whole adventure is as improbable as earlier ones, and follows the same pattern, in which Stick Dog does the thinking while the other four dogs criticize him and say he has no idea what he is doing and is lost somewhere in dreamland. For instance, at one point Karen needs to be rescued, because she has her head jammed in a large takeout coffee cup and cannot hear or see anything, so Stick Dog gently picks her up and carries her to safety – at which point the other dogs tell him that it is not right to eat Karen, no matter how hungry he and they may be. Eventually two themes of these books come together: finding food and dealing with Poo-Poo’s obsession with squirrels, which he deems his mortal enemies. Stick Dog not only gets donuts but also uses the bucket to get to apples in a tree, at which point he sees – a squirrel. So he takes the bucket down, gets Poo-Poo into it, and brings it up again, so Poo-Poo can once and for all deal with his nemesis. Except that it turns out that Poo-Poo does not attack the squirrel after all – for good, sufficient and happy reasons. By the book’s almost-end, the dogs have donuts and apples to eat, but no more coffee to drink (Karen has had quite enough, Stick Dog declares), and all ends well. But that is not quite the end – which is where the series startup comes in. After completing the latest Stick Dog adventure, Watson – who behaves in these books as if he is a preteen rather than an adult creating books for preteens – talks about a girl “in my class” whom he kind of likes and who really, really likes…cats. And she would just love to read something about cats, if only Watson would write something about them. And so Watson is going to do just that, creating a series about – wait for it – Stick Cat! There are even a few pages from the very first (upcoming) Stick Cat book included at the very, very end here; and thus a new series is born, or about to be born.
Stacy McAnulty’s series, The Dino Files, is being born in a more-conventional way, with book number 1 – in which, in fact, both the series and a dinosaur are born. A Mysterious Egg introduces Frank L. Mudd, narrator and preteen dinosaur expert, and the Dinosaur Education Center of Wyoming, which his grandparents own and which he and his parents visit every summer. This summer, his cousin Samantha (Sam) is there, too, being highly annoying by being, well, a girl, and also because she does not even like dinosaurs. Also on hand are Aaron Crabtree, the obligatory adversary in books of this sort, and Aaron’s nasty father – who gets into a conflict with Frank’s grandmother (Gram) over a dinosaur egg that Gram finds but that happens to have been on Crabtree land. None of this might be a big deal, except for the fact that Saurus, Frank’s cat, decides to sit on the fossil egg – and it, well, hatches. And various complications ensue, involving who should and should not know about Peanut (so named because he has a peanut-shaped horn on his nose, although in Mike Boldt’s illustrations it sometimes looks disconcertingly like a large wart); and what Peanut needs to eat; and where Peanut should live; and so on. The story arc here is a highly familiar one for preteen series (a sort of alien-in-our-midst thing), and most of the characters are pure types. Sam, for instance, “always pretends to talk to an invisible camera” because, Frank explains, she “says she has to practice being famous.” But The Dino Files is a cut above similar series, at least potentially, because Frank really does know about dinosaurs, and there is some genuine information here on how fossils are found and what they are – plus use of real dinosaur names. Indeed, there is enough potential learning here so a glossary (although admittedly a short one) needs to be included. It remains to be seen whether The Dino Files will become deeper and more intriguing in subsequent books, or whether it will turn into just another hunt-find-and-argue sort of series. For now, though, is deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Jo Whittemore’s Confidentially Yours sequence, on the other hand, is already showing in its first two books that there will be nothing particularly distinctive about it. This is one of the innumerable imitations of The Baby-Sitters Club, that preteen-girl-oriented success of the 1980s and 1990s that included 35 novels by Ann M. Martin and 43 by Peter Lerangis (plus plenty more by other authors). Whittemore’s take on this is to have three best friends – Brooke, Vanessa and Heather – just starting middle school and becoming columnists for the school newspaper, the Lincoln Log, after signing up for a journalism elective. The girls are not the only brand-new thing: the paper’s advice column, which they are to create, is new, too. The baby-sitters started with four members, and so does this group, because the teacher insists that a boy named Tim work with them to provide a male perspective on whatever issues they write about. Whittemore intends to focus each book on a different member of the advice-column set. Brooke’s Not-So-Perfect Plan deals with overachiever Brooke realizing that with her demanding friendships, her travel soccer team, her newspaper commitment and, oh yes, her school work, she may be overextended. Dropping school work is unfortunately not an option, so how is she going to juggle everything else? Might she have to stop doing the advice column? Of course not (if she did, there would be no series, after all). Brooke, who narrates this book (just as the baby-sitter books were narrated by each character in turn), bemoans her life: “Last year, I did soccer, coed baseball, made honor roll, and still had time for my family and friends. This year, I’m failing at everything.” Eventually an incident with a lost dog convinces Brooke that even though she is doing so much, her real problem is that she is not organized enough, and she gets a little help figuring out how to use time more efficiently, and even turns that information into an advice-column entry. So everything in this (+++) series opener ends well.
Its (+++) successor focuses on Vanessa, who loves fashion and her friends and the advice column – but readers will already get all that, and if they don’t, Vanessa, who narrates this volume, will soon tell them. Vanessa’s problem is competition: a new neighbor named Katie moves to town from the glamorous world of Los Angeles (a city that is always glamorous in books like this), and she may have even more style and more fashion savvy than Vanessa does, and that would be just awful. Soon the two are competitors not only in how they look but also in how they see things – with the advice column at the center of their dispute. The competition between Vanessa and Katie quickly escalates to absurd levels, and the cluelessness of Vanessa’s parents – a foundation of all series like this one – reaches even higher heights of silliness. Then Vanessa helps a fellow student in a way that makes him a success and gets her face and voice on television, and then there’s a party, and then Katie and Vanessa decide they can really be friends rather than competitors, and then “Katie and I hugged,” Vanessa writes, so everything is forgiven and everything is fine and wonderful. Like the first book in the series, this second one has a feel-good ending after some largely inconsequential trials and tribulations – ones that do not feel inconsequential to the characters and presumably will not feel that way to girls who read the books. The problem with Confidentially Yours is not that it fails to be well-meaning – it is certainly that – but that the characters have little character and the problems they face have been faced, in this form or a similar one, by so many other characters in so many other series for preteen girls. Confidentially, these books are fast reads, easy reads and not very meaningful reads.
Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse: Plant-Based Soups and Broths to Heal Your Body, Calm Your Mind, and Transform Your Life. By Elina Fuhrman. Da Capo. $24.99.
“Transform Your Life?” Really? Those who believe that celebrity-endorsed one-size-fits-all food and nutrition fads have significance and staying power will surely want this guide to a new one so they can make use of Elina Fuhrman’s approach and admonitions diligently, even religiously, with full faith in their permanent value until the next “in” thing comes along. Very big, very important, very soon to be forgotten celebrities and other fad leaders have pushed the “cleanse” concept for a while, with the result that Fuhrman actually created her own “cleanse” idea in part as a response to the most-common existing one: “I was so tired of scrolling through Instagram photos of just about everyone in LA ‘juice cleansing’ that I wanted to shake things up. Don’t get me wrong; I love juicing but you know what goes on during juice cleansing: You feel tired, you feel dizzy, you feel hungry, your blood sugar goes up and down because of all the sugary fruits mixed in with the greens. And by the time you are done, you are so ready for a juicy cheeseburger.”
Well, with an endorsement like that, who wouldn’t want to try a cleanse? But Fuhrman’s, to give it and her some credit beyond the “wow, it’s trendy” type, hits on something in this intense focus on soups. Soup is, or can be, a hearty meal in itself, and many people – even the non-trendy – turn to it as a comfort food as well as a bulwark against cold, rainy, snowy and generally unpleasant weather. Soup can be nutrient-packed (although it isn’t always), and anyone who really does want to build his or her diet around soup can do so in comparatively straightforward and uncomplicated ways.
Of course, “straightforward and uncomplicated” would not be hyper-trendy, so Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse is careful not to take an overly forthright approach. “All of [the soups in the book] are made from scratch, using the freshest organic ingredients. …All the soups are vegan, made from some familiar ingredients and some exotic ones, too. …[Some] have medicinal and healing properties, too.” Well, hold on a moment: now we are getting into the “nutraceutical” craze, the notion that just eating certain things in certain ways will remove toxins from the body (the basic “cleanse” idea) and will, as a positive side effect, eliminate the necessity of dealing with the messiness of modern medicine and all the ills it allegedly brings along with the cures it allegedly doles out in grudging fashion. It is understandable that Fuhrman would take this approach, since she credits soups with helping her recover from breast cancer, and she says directly that “soups became a form of self-love and comfort as I changed the way I ate, gave up all meat and dairy, and turned to plant-based foods.” So this book is built in part on a foundation of extreme plant focus, a “wellness revolution that I believe will transform the world and our health.” Well, it is fine that Fuhrman believes soups transformed her health, but that is a far cry from saying they will transform everyone’s health, and her ardent vegan advocacy will certainly turn off people who may stumble upon this book but who are more inclined to believe in “everything in moderation” than in “this is the one and only way to eat and live and behave.”
So Fuhrman self-limits the audience for Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse through a kind of stridency that couples unattractively with self-assured complete certainty. That is a recipe for a cult, not a soup. Nevertheless, the point is worth making again: soups are, or certainly can be, highly nutritious and the foundation of a healthful eating regimen. Whether they are a useful “cleansing” tool is a matter of opinion, and whether “cleanses” themselves are good or bad for health is also by no means definite. But even people who refuse to swallow Fuhrman’s rhetoric and opinions along with her soups may at least want to consider some of the recipes here, because Fuhrman has come up with some good and interesting ones – provided that people have the time to make the soups and the inclination to do vegan-style shopping if they do not already practice that particular type of eating.
Oh – one more thing – the recipe titles, like the book’s underlying philosophy, may or may not be widely appealing. Fuhrman goes for the cutesy, and she likes names that end in question marks or exclamation points: “Oh Dhal-ing!” “What the Hemp?” “I Can’t Believe It’s Butternut!” “Oh Snap!” “You’re My Fava-rite!” “That’s Just Dandy!” “Cauliflower Me, Maybe?!” Even the non-questioning, non-exclamatory names are intended to be oh-so-adorable: “And the Beet Goes On,” “I Yam Who I Yam,” “Cure for the Common Kohlrabi,” “I Don’t Carrot All What They Say,” “Lentil Me Entertain You,” “Pho Sho,” “Don’t Kvass Me Any More Questions,” and so on. And on. The soups themselves are, thankfully, better than their names: some are hearty, some are spicy, some offer intriguing mixtures of vegetables, and some are particularly interestingly spiced (although you have to be willing to spend Whole Foods prices for some of those spices: this is emphatically not a book for the budget-sensitive). The soups that take off from Oriental recipes and include plenty of ginger, lemongrass, coconut, turmeric and similar ingredients are especially appealing. Other recipes may be more of a hard sell, such as “Beet the Heat,” which includes “raw organic beet kombucha,” sauerkraut, unpasteurized pickles and more. Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse is a “cause” book and a “California cool” book; it even contains a soup called “Kale-ifornia Dreamin’.” Those not already committed to the “cleanse cause” and those who are insufficiently with-it in California terms will scarcely be drawn in by Fuhrman’s ideas and foods. But the book is not quite as limited in appeal as it seems to be at first – although it is certainly not as universally useful as it claims to be, and its assertions are best taken with a soupçon or two of the Himalayan pink salt that Fuhrman includes in so many of her recipes.
Mahler: Symphony No. 2—arrangement for piano four hands by Bruno Walter. Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale, pianists. Naxos. $12.99.
Idil Biret Chamber Music Edition, Volume 2: Brahms—Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 for Cello and Piano. Roderic von Bennigsen, cello; Idil Biret, piano. IBA. $9.99.
Idil Biret Solo Edition, Volume 9: Bach—Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903; Partita No. 1; French Suite No. 5; English Suite No. 3. Idil Biret, piano. IBA. $9.99.
Bach: Organ Music—Prelude and “St. Anne’s” Fugue, BWV 552; Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540; An Wasserflüssen Babylon, BWV 653; Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546; Choral Prelude “O Mensch Bewein dein Sünde Groß,” BWV 622; Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542; Prelude and Fugue in E Minor (“Wedge”), BWV 548. Barbara Harbach, organ. MSR Classics. $12.95.
Schubert: Piano Sonatas Nos. 18, D. 894, and 20, D. 959. David Korevaar, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.
How far can you push the piano? If you are Chopin, you can push it deeply into expressiveness; Liszt, deeply into drama; if you are John Cage, you can push it into “prepared” territory, changing many of the inherent qualities of its sound. But there are other ways to push the piano into new regions, for example by turning it almost literally into the “orchestra in miniature” that Liszt saw it as being – by taking grand symphonic works and creating versions of them for piano alone. This is scarcely a new idea: Liszt himself was expert at it, as he showed in his arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies (and even he was not the first to undertake that particular task: he was preceded by Friedrich Kalkbrenner). Every once in a while, though, the sheer daring of a piano arrangement of something symphonic becomes breathtaking; and so it is with Bruno Walter’s four-hand arrangement of Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony. Even Mahler fanatics have not heard this before – the new Naxos recording is a world première – and even those who know Walter’s emotive conducting of Mahler’s symphonies, which often deviated from the scores so as to bring out the feelings that Walter (who studied and worked with Mahler and was friends with him) believed the composer intended to emphasize, will have heard nothing like this. Variable in tempos and filled with rubato Walter’s conducting may have been, but when it comes to this handling of the Symphony No. 2, his devotion to Mahler is absolute. This is an amazing feat, in one sense scaling down the symphony but in another clarifying its structure and visualizing its innards in much the way that X-rays illuminate bone. Walter is faithful to Mahler’s scale, his tempos, his harmonies; but the inherent difference between the sound of four hands on a piano (or, as in the present recording, two separate pianos) and that of 100 musicians doubling parts and creating inner voices and varieties of tension means that this arrangement sounds exactly like Mahler and at the same time not at all like him. Mahler actually used the orchestra as if it were a gigantic chamber group: instead of generally aiming for massed sound in the Bruckner manner, he sought delicacy of color and care of aural impressions by including a huge variety and number of instruments without insisting that they play together all the time. The result is that when there is a full tutti, it is all the more overwhelming. That effect is inevitably missing in Walter’s piano arrangement – but instead, listeners get to hear with exceptional clarity the building blocks from which Mahler created this monumental score, and to hear clearly how the pieces of the symphony connect to and contrast with each other. The performance by Maasa Nakazawa and Suhrud Athavale is more than serviceable, although it is not especially Mahlerian – in the sense that one gets the feeling that these players would have handled a Beethoven, Brahms or Bruckner arrangement in much the same way. The notes are there, the tempos are followed and the harmonies are present, but there is a certainly Mahlerian spirit missing – an absence that accentuates that of the vocal forces in the fourth and fifth movements. Even Liszt had problems with omitting the voices from the choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth; Walter encounters similar issues with Mahler’s Second. He solves them in a similar way, by following the vocal lines in the piano and creating enough underlying support to give these sections heft, if not verbiage. What is missing, though, is grandeur, partly because of the inherent limitations of an arrangement like this and partly because the pianists do not seem fully conversant with the sheer scale of what Mahler did in this work. Nevertheless, this is a very valuable recording and a must-have for Mahler lovers: it shows the inner workings of the “Resurrection” symphony in ways that orchestral performances do not, and indeed cannot. In so doing, it only increases one’s appreciation for how magnificently Mahler handled this symphony’s musical material.
The first pianist to record all the Liszt arrangements of Beethoven’s symphonies was Idil Biret, and that is not the only way in which she pushed the boundaries of piano repertoire. Her exceptionally strong and varied discography becomes increasingly impressive as it grows and grows through new releases on the IBA (Idil Biret Archive) label. These releases fall into separate series and, within the series, into re-releases of older performances and new releases of ones recorded recently. The two latest IBA recordings, in the Chamber Music Edition and Solo Edition sequences, are both new, the former from 2014 and the latter from 2015. Both show that Biret, who is now 74, has lost none of her pianistic skill and none of the thoughtful, analytical approach to music that, coupled with her sheer technical ability, makes so many of her readings intellectually as well as sonically thrilling. The Chamber Music Edition recording of the two Brahms cello sonatas is especially good. The reason is that Biret here has a partner (with whom she first worked as far back as 1970) who matches her musical intellect and shares with her the same sense of Brahms’ scale and of the relationship the composer created between the cello and piano in these sonatas. One would normally expect the string instrument to take the lead much of the time in music of this sort, but Brahms’ own pianistic predilections mean that the piano is the primary focus in these works more often than not. Yet in the hands of Biret and Roderic von Bennigsen, what emerges is not a contest for supremacy but a finely honed level of cooperation, a true partnership that lends the music considerable stature and emotional depth. These two sonatas are quite different. The first, Op. 38 in E minor, is a deeply somber three-movement work with the pervasive “autumnal” quality so often associated with Brahms. It also has some strong ties to Bach – just as the Fourth Symphony, also in E minor, was later to have – and possesses in its finale the same surprising combination of traditional formality with distinctly Romantic emotional sensibility. Von Bennigsen and Biret have clearly thought through all the elements of the work, and they deliver a fully convincing reading as a result. Then they switch gears for the Op. 99 sonata, which is in F and in four movements and is more outgoing and lyrical. It sounds almost as if this is the earlier, more-youthful work and the first sonata is the later, more-serious one. One of the difficulties with the second sonata is that the first three movements are very well-constructed and effective, but the concluding Allegro molto is a less-substantial piece, a Rondo that does not quite measure up to what has come before. The skill of these performers is such that this movement makes full emotional sense in their reading – it never quite becomes a capstone for the work, but it seems to follow more logically and with a greater sense of rightness than it usually does. These sonatas show off Biret’s skill in chamber music to a very fine degree, and show how fortunate she is to have a partner such as von Bennigsen in music that requires such close collaborative effort.
The Bach disc in the Solo Edition is not quite at this level. It certainly shows Biret’s elegantly stylish way with Bach, and demonstrates for the umpteenth time that this pianist has the intellectual as well as technical heft to make Bach’s solo music effective. But no pianist, Biret included, can ever escape the reality that Bach did not write for the piano, and there is no really good solution to playing him on this instrument. Making the piano sound sere and spare only calls attention to the fact that it is not a harpsichord or clavichord. Allowing it to flourish with the sound of which it is capable produces performances that are out of keeping with the scale and intent of the music. Biret, not surprisingly, stakes out a middle ground. She does not overwhelm listeners with grand Romantic-era gestures and constant rubato, nor does she hold back the piano’s sound to such a degree that it becomes constricted and constrained. Instead, Biret delves into both the formal elegance and the emotional content of Bach’s music, allowing it to flow naturally while effectively showcasing the rhythmic differences among the dance forms in the Partita No. 1, French Suite No. 5, and English Suite No. 3. Biret’s formal skill comes through most clearly in the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903, where her pacing and handling of the fugal voices are well-balanced and as contrapuntally convincing as they can be on an instrument not constructed for counterpoint. Not even Biret can make Bach sound totally appropriate on the piano, but what she can do – and what she does do – is to make his music appealing in a different way from that of the instruments for which he intended it.
Still, the contrast between Biret’s piano-Bach and Barbara Harbach’s organ-Bach shows the inherent superiority of performing this music on the right type of instrument. Much like Biret, Harbach is a thoughtful performer as well as an energetic one, and she too gives the impression that she has thought through all the elements of every work she plays long before she sits down for a performance. The two organs that Harbach plays on a new MSR Classics CD are scarcely comparable to those of Bach’s time: one, in Rochester, New York, dates to 1983, while the other, in Lyons, New York, dates to 1970. But Harbach evokes the Baroque feeling of this music through her skillful choice of stops, her adept blending of voices, and her very clear understanding of Bach’s style and the extent to which an interpreter must – and must not – vary from the printed notes. The program given by Harbach is clearly a highly personal one – there is little inherent connection among the works – but these pieces, one and all, give Harbach a chance to show the great variety of sounds and styles that Bach brought to his compositions and that the organ can put on display. The gradual addition of voices to An Wasserflüssen Babylon, BWV 653, for example, contrasts strongly and appealingly with the striking immediacy of the opening of the Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546, which immediately follows on the disc. The stepwise, highly chromatic opening of the Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 (usually called “Fantasia” rather than “Fantasy”) makes a wonderful contrast with the much more declamatory start of the next work, Prelude and Fugue in E Minor (“Wedge”), BWV 548. Harbach handles all the fugues with care, precision and enough feeling to make them sound like something well beyond dry exercises. Indeed, the contrast between her improvisation-like approach to the first of the paired movements (whether Prelude, Toccata or Fantasy) and her much more even, almost-staid handling of the fugues is one of this disc’s particular pleasures. Harbach, herself a composer, quite clearly understands the structural elements of this music, and her sensitive readings show that she knows just when to draw attention to the works’ foundations and when to let listeners hear just how imposing an edifice Bach built upon those bases.
The piano is much better suited to the music of Schubert than to that of Bach, not only because Schubert deliberately wrote for it but also because Schubert’s melodic flow and his quicksilver key switching seem ideal for an instrument that is essentially harmonic in nature rather than contrapuntal. David Korevaar offers sensitive, nuanced interpretations of two late Schubert piano sonatas, Nos. 18 and 20 (the latter the composer’s penultimate one), on a fine new MSR Classics recording. No. 18 in G, D. 894, was the last sonata published during Schubert’s lifetime, and was given the title “Fantasie” by the publisher because of the freewheeling nature of the first movement. Quite unlike a Bach Fantasia, this movement one by Schubert is songlike from the start and features a lyrical, lilting second subject – and in fact the movement is in sonata form, although it tends to push the form’s boundaries. One thing Korevaar does particularly well is to hold the movement in formal check while still allowing its emotional overflow to pour forth. The contrasts of the second movement, between gentleness and drama, also come across well here, but what is most impressive by the end of the sonata is the feeling of serenity that Korevaar communicates. There is a sense in which all the contrasts of the music are designed to be merely brief excursions from quietude. Sonata No. 20 in A, D. 959, is a different matter altogether. Here Korevaar begins effectively with the opening drama, then lets the work slide into gentler, more-lyrical territory with apparent ease. There is serenity in this sonata too, notably at the end of the first movement, but by and large, there are more highs and lows than in D894. This later work has lamentation in its not-very-slow second movement (an Andantino), considerable good spirits in its third, and pervasive lyricism in its concluding Rondo. Korevaar picks up on all these emotions and lets them flow naturally and pleasantly – indeed, a good adjective for the sonata as a whole is “pleasant.” The sound of Korevaar’s piano – not the usual Steinway but a Shigeru Kawai SK-7 – is interesting, with considerable liveliness but without the rich resonance in the bass that one expects from Steinway. Korevaar plays with feeling and adeptness, but the actual piano sound may not be to all listeners’ liking. The quality of Korevaar’s performances, however, should be.
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Fair Melusine; The Hebrides. Camilla Tilling and Magdalena Risberg, sopranos; Women’s Voices of the Swedish Radio Choir and Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. BIS. $21.99 (SACD).
Rain Worthington: Shredding Glass; Reversing Mirrors in the Quiet; Tracing a Dream; Fast Through Dark Winds; Within a Dance; Yet Still Night; Of Time Remembered. Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra and Russian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Ian Winstin, Petr Vronský and Ovidiu Marinescu. Navona. $14.99.
Franck: Sonata for Violin and Piano; Bloch: Poème Mystique (Violin Sonata No. 2); Julien Krein: Berceuse. Zina Schiff, violin; Cameron Grant, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.
The musical creation of dreamscapes is by no means simple and by no means done the same way by different composers. That music has the power to transport listeners to places amazing and imaginary, there is no doubt. But there is no inherent meaning to any particular sequence of notes, any particular harmonic or contrapuntal construction, and therefore the success of a work at disconnecting listeners from reality and bringing them somewhere else depends as much on the audience as on the music’s creator. It is crucial to bring listeners to the right imaginary landscape in order to communicate effectively with them once they arrive. This is far from easy. Wagner accomplished it brilliantly with his opening to Parsifal, for example, but Mozart relied on staging and visualization rather than the character of the music to pull the audience into the world of Die Zauberflöte. Chronologically between these two examples lies Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is as perfect a dreamship as was ever constructed. The well-paced and delicate performance by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard confirms this yet again, if further confirmation be necessary. The grandeur of the ever-popular Wedding March is here, to be sure, but what is most impressive in this performance is the delicacy with which Dausgaard presents the quieter, more dreamlike musical material, such as the Notturno. It is the gentleness of the more-even-tempered segments that makes the brighter and bouncier ones so effective by contrast, and Dausgaard understands this well. In fact, it is clear from the very start, in his handling of the ever-amazing Overture, whose four opening chords so clearly raise the curtain on a world different from and yet allied to the real one, a fantasy world where spirits scurry as love seeks love and “rude mechanicals” play out their roles with enthusiasm and utterly without understanding. Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains a marvel, and poised and sensitive performances like this one ensure that it continues to sound like one. The additional evocative works on the CD complement A Midsummer Night’s Dream very well. The Beautiful Melusine has all the yearning and drama befitting the story of the water spirit in human form who, when seen by her husband as she truly is, must return to the waters. And The Hebrides broods, swirls and surges with strength and intensity, sweeping listeners into a dark, impassioned world that seems the stuff of dreams even though Fingal’s Cave, which inspired the overture, is very much a real place. Dreamer Mendelssohn may have been, but he knew how to bring his dreams to real audiences in ways that continue to inspire listeners’ flights of fancy today.
Rain Worthington clearly wants to reach out to and reach people in a similar way, but on the evidence of a new (+++) Navona CD, she does not have the tools to do so effectively. She certainly has the musical tools, albeit a rather deliberately limited set of them: her work is pervaded by the typical contemporary tropes of minimalism and constricted and oft-repeated harmonies and forms of orchestration (she favors tone clusters in the woodwinds and upper strings). There are dreamlike and nightmarish inspirations underlying the seven orchestral works on this disc, and there is emotional reaching-out in all of them, but the problem is that it sounds like the same reaching-out, no matter what the inspiration behind each work. Worthington repeatedly contrasts sounds of desolation with ones that have a kind of intellectualizing, distancing effect, as if the way to move through and past despair is to separate oneself from the emotions it provokes. There is no triumphalism here and little that is joyous or even especially life-affirming. For example, Shredding Glass, a response to the terrorist murders of September 11, 2001 in New York City, although it is scarcely placid, seems to find an adequate response to the horror only by standing back and avoiding a visceral reaction to it. Similarly, Within a Dance, subtitled “A Tone Poem of Love,” assiduously avoids grand Romantic-style sweeping gestures and as a result produces diminished, if not exactly minimized, emotions. Yet Still Night, whose subtitle is “A Nocturne for Orchestra,” sounds no more nocturnal than Tracing a Dream or Fast Through Dark Winds, both of which go some distance to create dreamscapes (not always pleasant ones) but offer no truly satisfactory escape from them. Worthington titles these orchestral pieces cleverly, but swapping the titles around would make little if any difference: the works use essentially the same procedures to approach the audience in essentially the same way. The fact that Worthington wants to involve listeners emotionally puts her music a cut above that of contemporary composers who seem to create mainly for themselves and others in their circle; but the narrow range of techniques that Worthington employs and the similar way she uses them from piece to piece combine to make this not-particularly-lengthy CD (55 minutes) seem to go on and on in the same vein of heard-it-before repetition.
Dream pictures are displayed more effectively on a new (++++) MSR Classics CD of well-known works by Franck and Bloch and a world première recording of a short Berceuse by Julien Krein (1913-1996). Here as on the Worthington disc, many of the same techniques are employed to produce emotional communication, but the three composers represented use them in different ways – and the effect is less of ordinary dreams than of wider-ranging ones that come closer to mystical visions. This is not to lay too much at the foot of the music: all these pieces come across effectively without requiring listeners to delve into their spiritual undercurrents. Yet they invite such exploration for those who wish to undertake it, and the care and sensitivity of the performances by Zina Schiff and Cameron Grant make it easy for those so inclined to explore as they wish. For example, Schiff and Grant pay particular attention to the cyclicality of the Franck Sonata, clearly bringing forth the recurring thematic elements without drawing undue attention to them. Although nothing here repeats in the manner of an idée fixe, the use of the reflective-sounding main theme throughout helps give the sonata its dreamlike quality, that theme being employed very differently – and, in this performance, to very good effect – in the intensity of the second movement and contrastingly in the fantasia-like, freely expressive third. Franck then brings the emotional explorations of the first three movements to a triumphant conclusion in the finale, leaving behind a sense of awakening from drifting thoughts into bright sunlight. In contrast, Bloch’s Poème Mystique is comparatively serene, even tranquil, although – as the title indicates – it reaches for a certain level of mystical insight and spiritual connection: halfway through its single extended movement, it quotes a motif previously employed by Bloch in his Jewish cycle and then switches quickly to music from the Latin Mass (Bloch even places the Latin text above his musical notation, lest anyone miss the connection). Simpler and more straightforward than his first sonata for violin and piano, this second one is attractively lyrical and has a very specific connection with dreams: it was inspired by one that Bloch had after taking an overdose of a barbiturate. The final work here, Krein’s, dates to the same decade as Bloch’s, having been written in 1928 (Bloch’s sonata is from 1924; Franck’s is much earlier, dating to 1886). The overall sound and use of harmony are somewhat similar in the Bloch and Krein works, and Krein’s piece shares Bloch’s work’s sense of mystery, if not its depth. This Berceuse makes a pleasant, rather superficial encore after the two more-substantial works, allowing a gentle close to a recital both dreamlike and thoughtful.
February 18, 2016
Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek. By Rebecca Ashdown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $16.99.
Big Chickie, Little Chickie: A Book of Opposites. By Janee Trasler. HarperFestival. $8.99.
Splat the Cat and the Quick Chicks. By Laura Driscoll. Illustrations by Robert Eberz. Harper. $16.99.
The Happy Egg. By Ruth Krauss. Pictures by Crockett Johnson. Harper. $14.99.
The adorable penguin pals created by Rebecca Ashdown in Bob and Flo are back for another day of fun at preschool in Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek. This time they have fun with a third preschool penguin, Sam. The story is simplicity itself: the three play hide-and-seek, with Flo and Sam looking for Bob – but it turns out that Bob is not very good at hiding, and needs some advice from his friends in order to get better at it. He does, and everyone is happy. The pleasure here is not just in the story but in the way Ashdown tells it. For example, because counting to 20 is hard for preschoolers, “Flo and Sam counted to ten. Twice!” That sounds like just what creative human preschoolers would do. As for the “hiding” issue, Bob is adorably inept, first “hiding” by crossing his flippers in front of his face, then – when his friends say to hide behind something – holding up a small mirror and hiding “behind” it. It is only when Flo and Sam tell Bob to “disappear” that he finally figures out what to do: he builds a wall of blocks in a sort-of-penguin shape and sort-of-penguin colors, and hides behind it. And sure enough, he has managed to disappear. Cute characters, ultra-simple words and just enough activity to be involving for young readers combine to make this second story of penguin pals as much fun as the first one.
The equally adorable “chickies” of Janee Trasler are already the stars of numerous board books, and now there is yet another one – which combines their usual high activity level with a touch of education, in the form of opposites. Pig, Cow and Sheep, the “adult” animals in these books, declare that it is time for some pictures – using, it should be pointed out, an old-fashioned film camera, which may need to be explained to the very young children for whom the book is intended. The “picture” premise gives Trasler a ready way to show the difference between, for example, in and out (the chickies are inside a box of dress-up clothes and then outside it), and little and big (single chickie compared with double – that is, one standing on another). Trasler then plays with readers’ rhyme expectations to make the book funnier; for instance, “Chickies then. Chickies now./ Chickies dance and take a....COW!” That is, not a bow. And to rhyme with “big,” the chickies do not wear a wig – instead, they look at Pig. Readers then expect “leap” to be the rhyme in this water-based sequence: “Chickies shallow. Chickies deep./ Chickies run and jump and.…SHEEP!” Pictures are taken of all the various configurations of the chickies and the “grown-up” animals, and at the end, everyone falls down into a big, laughing pile – a suitably amusing conclusion to a book packed with frenetic activity of all sorts.
There is plenty happening as well in Splat the Cat and the Quick Chicks, which is based on Rob Scotton’s characters but not created by him: it is a Level 1 book in the “I Can Read!” series (featuring “simple sentences for eager new readers”). These are more realistic-looking chicks than Trasler’s, and they behave more realistically, too, although Splat and his best friend, Seymour the mouse, are as human-child-like as usual. The dozen chicks start out as eggs, which Splat takes home from school to watch overnight. But while he sleeps, the eggs hatch – and the chicks get into everything. They are on Splat himself, and cuddled in his socks, and curled up by his old-fashioned alarm clock, and all over Splat’s toys – even, in the case of one chick, “in the paint box. Ick.” Splat finds 11 of the chicks but cannot locate the 12th until it turns up pecking at a basket, then promptly runs away. Splat, Seymour and all the chicks run upstairs, downstairs and all over the house as Splat tries to gather the chicks and also get ready for school. Finally, everyone gets out the door, with the chicks very amusingly trailing Splat and Seymour by using their wings to hold onto an electrical cord (the most unrealistic thing these chicks do, and worth the unreality to see the book’s best picture). Everyone makes it to school safely, but when Splat’s teacher, Mrs. Wimpydimple, counts the chicks, there are only 11 – again, as at Splat’s home, one is missing! However, it soon turns up, hiding behind the apple on the teacher’s desk, and this pleasantly silly story of “quick chicks” comes to an amusing close.
After all that bird-related activity, it is a distinct pleasure to settle back with a bird book that celebrates lack of activity and has a gentler, slower pace. The Happy Egg, originally published in 1967, is by Ruth Krauss (1901-1993), with illustrations by her husband, Crockett Johnson (1906-1975). The book is by no means as well-known as, say, the pair’s The Carrot Seed (1945), but it is quite a charmer in its own right. Republished in 2005 and now available in a new edition, the book starts with a picture showing just a small flower and “a little little bird,” in the form of a blue egg. The egg cannot do anything by itself: “It could just get sat on.” And along comes an obliging white bird to do just that. The bird sits and sits and sits and sits – and the flower grows and grows and grows and grows, a truly wonderful way to show the passage of time. Finally, the little blue bird emerges with a big “POP!” And it does what little birds do – it walks, sings an elaborate tune (with musical stave and G clef), and flies: the left-hand page simply has the word “fly” on it, while the bird is seen at the extreme upper right corner of the right-hand page, and this minimalist approach is an absolute delight. A great contrast to the frenetic nature more common in bird-focused books created for young readers today, The Happy Egg is a joy from start to finish: a very short book offering very long-lasting pleasure.
Dill & Bizzy: An Odd Duck and a Strange Bird. By Nora Ericson. Illustrated by Lisa Ericson. Harper. $17.99.
Duck, Duck, Dinosaur. By Kallie George. Illustrated by Oriol Vidal. Harper. $17.99.
Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species. By Jeff Campbell. Zest Books. $13.99.
Harry Potter Magical Creatures Coloring Book. Scholastic. $15.99.
The interesting thing about the title of the Ericson sisters’ highly amusing “bird book” is that reversing the first letters of the characters’ names would give a clue to the whole plot. Think of “Bill and Dizzy” and you imagine one staid, straightforward character (and one with a bill) and one that is rather – well, dizzy. What is so much fun in Dill & Bizzy, though, is that both characters are oddballs, as the subtitle makes clear, but the duck (drawn comparatively realistically) considers himself quite ordinary, while the “strange bird” (which looks a bit like an escapee from a Dr. Seuss book) is well aware of his peculiarities and only wishes the duck shared them so they could become friends. Well, it turns out that the duck is just as odd as the whatever-it-is, to such an extent that when Bizzy decides to take a bicycle ride, “ordinary duck” Dill is ready to go along on his unicycle – and when Bizzy balances bagels on his nose and says an odd duck could do the same, Dill explains that because he is so ordinary, the best he can do is to juggle some ordinary peanuts while upside-down. There are definitely the makings of a beautiful friendship here, with Nora Ericson’s story making it clear that these two strange birds are well-matched and Lisa Ericson’s illustrations driving the point home through page after page of parallel silliness. The climax comes when the two birds, tired after all their activities, decide to splash in the fountain where Dill lives. Bizzy dives right in and is glad to be with an ordinary, water-loving duck – except that Dill explains that he cannot swim and has to use floaties. After this, the two birds decide that they might as well be best friends even though one is so thoroughly oddball and the other is, by his own standards, so thoroughly ordinary – which means, as Bizzy points out, that in fact Dill is “extra-ordinary.”
The mother duck and two ducklings in Duck, Duck, Dinosaur are more ordinary than Dill, but Kallie George adds something extra-ordinary to the mix – a very big something. Mama Duck is first seen awaiting the hatching of her three eggs, one of which is suspiciously larger than the other two. The first two eggs hatch nicely, with the two fluffy ducklings immediately becoming hyper-competitive as to which is bigger, Feather or Flap. While they argue, the third egg – the gigantic one – cracks open, and out comes a dinosaur that, thanks to Oriol Vidal’s illustrations, looks strange even by the standards of children’s books. He is all head (vaguely that of a predator, but with blunt teeth and pronounced overbite) and feet (gigantic ones), with almost no body at all. Mama Duck, filled with mother love, simply names him Spike and sets about enjoying her newly enlarged family. Now all three hatchlings compete for attention: Feather brings Mama a flower, so Flap brings a whole bouquet, and Spike rips a huge tree out of the ground and makes it his present to Mama Duck. Spike talks only in single words and sounds: “Sweet!” “Funny!” “Brrrr!” The two ducklings are much more expressive and argumentative. But in the end, the differing personalities and sizes – and species – matter not a whit, because “under Mama’s wings, no one was bigger, or sweeter, or funnier, or better. They were all the best. The best family.” And there you have a dinosaur-sized helping of warmth that will elicit an “awwww” from young readers – or at least from adults.
A much more serious look at giant creatures omits dinosaurs entirely, not because some dinos were tiny but because Last of the Giants focuses on megafauna that existed long after the age of dinosaurs. Jeff Campbell’s selection of 13 creatures is a very personal one, and not entirely consistent: it includes the very small passenger pigeon, for reasons that Campbell explains in his introduction, and also includes two other non-megafauna animals, the red wolf and thylacine. Campbell says he is primarily interested in “animals that dominated their environments,” often because of their size but sometimes for other reasons. But even accepting Campbell’s comment at face value makes some of his choices a bit hard to understand. For example, Last of the Giants includes the huge flightless birds called the moa (from New Zealand) and elephant bird (from Madagascar). But it omits Australia’s seven-foot-tall, 500-pound Genyornis newtoni – undoubtedly because that bird went extinct (apparently largely because of human predation of its eggs) tens of thousands of years ago, and Campbell focuses on extinctions within the last 500 years or so. So this is less a book about megafauna and other apex predators or environmentally significant creatures than it is a look at large and/or impressive animals that went extinct between roughly 1500 (moa) and 2011 (western black and Vietnam Javan rhinoceros). Within its somewhat fuzzy focus, Last of the Giants explores human interaction with now-extinct creatures and discusses the complex relationship between people and animals. Thankfully, Campbell does not take the all-too-common view that humans are some sort of pestilence, destroying other creatures willy-nilly. Regarding rhinos, for instance, he notes that they “find themselves in the same precarious position as so many other giant species whose fate is in our hands. Because of us, rhinos have become one of Earth’s most endangered species; yet without us, they would be long gone already.” That is, while some humans, such as poachers, destroy animals, others – conservationists and scientists – work to preserve them. All the creatures in Last of the Giants eventually succumbed to forces in whose involvement humans had a greater or lesser, more direct or less direct, role. In addition to the six entries already mentioned, Campbell discusses the aurochs, Steller’s sea cow, Indian Ocean giant tortoises, the California grizzly, certain lions, some tigers, and the baiji (a type of river dolphin). Of this last, he writes, “We loved the baiji, but it wasn’t enough. …Scientists barely understood the species, and they couldn’t agree on how to care for it.” Conservation attempts failed; a combination of factors relating to human encroachment eventually doomed the species. Like most contemporary writers about environmental topics, Campbell is very well-meaning but has a significant blind spot. The elephant (or other megafauna) in the room where conservation is concerned is human overpopulation – the ultimate issue affecting everything from energy use to deforestation to species extinction. Well-meaning First World scientists and researchers can do all they want to try to assist and preserve species, but as long as the human population grows essentially unchecked – and more quickly in less-developed countries than in developed ones – everyday human needs for food, shelter and energy are always going to put pressure on animals. Sometimes the pressure will be unsustainable and the animals will disappear. Campbell’s (+++) book is scarcely the only one to fail to acknowledge this reality. It is simply naïve to say, as he does of the baiji, that this river dolphin “was the first cetacean driven to extinction by humans, but we need to change our ways if we want it to be the last.” That is a distinctly First World formulation. The reality is that unless the entire world addresses its population issues – whose complexity has deep societal, tribal and religious elements – no amount of well-meaning intervention will be enough to sustain threatened species in the wild. And unfortunately, a willingness to confront the issue of human population is notably absent from virtually all discussions of climate change and species disappearance.
No climate on Earth or, as far as we know, anywhere else, ever produced the things seen in the Harry Potter Magical Creatures Coloring Book, but the human imagination can conceive of beings that even Mother Nature cannot bring into being (or at least has not). Fans of the eight Harry Potter films, from which the pictures in this coloring book were taken, will likely recognize at least some and perhaps many of the black-and-white characters and scenes that are available for coloring in any way one chooses – along the lines of the actual film stills (color pictures taken from a number of scenes are included) or using a different palette altogether. The book is a (+++) release for hardcore, highly devoted fans only, because there is nothing in it except the black-and-white pages to color and the colored pictures on which to base (or not base) one’s own approach to the creatures. That is, nothing here actually explains anything about any creature or scene, or even says which movie a page comes from. The assumption appears to be that anyone who wants this book will be so devoted to the whole Harry Potter movie universe that he or she will be able to identify all the creatures and the scenes in which they appear – or perhaps will not care what comes from where, but will simply be delighted to re-encounter these flights of imaginative fancy. Many people may remember such scenes as Harry’s meeting with Dobby and Dumbledore’s gentle handling of his phoenix, but the merpeople and certain specific dragons may be less easily recollected. In any case, the purpose of this book is to re-immerse fans of the Harry Potter films in the world the movies’ directors created – and thus, indirectly, in the world as originally envisioned by J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter books have never really dropped from public consciousness, and Rowling continues adding to the mythic universe she created, so the Harry Potter Magical Creatures Coloring Book is sure to find a receptive audience among Potterphiles. It will not, however, entrance anyone who is not already captivated by the way the movies imagined and reimagined Rowling’s novels.