June 30, 2016


One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree. By Daniel Bernstrom. Pictures by Brendan Wenzel. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $17.99.

I Love Cake! By Tammi Sauer. Pictures by Angie Rozelaar. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $17.99.

     A boy with the instincts of a trickster and no fear whatsoever, and a hungry snake reminiscent of Kaa in The Jungle Book, are the protagonist and antagonist in Daniel Bernstrom’s rhythmic narrative, One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree. There is a kind of “house that Jack built” element to the book, too, and a version of “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” underlying it all. The snake, very long and yellow and interestingly patterned, always smiling and very, very hungry, one day drops down upon and swallows a little boy who has been simply skipping along in the tree of the book’s title. Oh no! But Brendan Wenzel’s pictures take most of the scare out of the encounter: clearly the boy, although swallowed, is unhurt, and the snake has an almost jovial rather than menacing air. The clever boy reminds the snake “that you’re still very hungry and there’s more you can eat,” so the snake sets off in search of other food, soon encountering a bird about to do its own gobbling, of a worm. And: “Sneaky-slidey zipped the snake from his place in the leaves/ and gobbled up the bird and her ooey-gooey worm/ one day in the eucalyptus, eucalyptus tree.” Even this is not enough, though, as the quick-thinking boy reminds the snake, and sure enough, the snake agrees and seeks more things to consume. Next is a “cat in his dozy-cozy nap,” and then “a sloth cloaked in moss,” and “an ape eating grapes,” and even “a bear with the qually-wally hair” – clearly far too big for the snake to swallow, but somehow the snake manages to do just that. His belly now swollen to enormous size, the snake continues prowling, even consuming a hive full of bees; and still the boy insists the snake has more room inside, even when the overstuffed snake finally says “no.” Well, maybe just a tiny bit more room, thinks the snake, gobbling “a teeny-tiny fly” – and that is the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. With a burp and a belch and a long-extended “blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” the snake disgorges everything and everybody, including the smiling boy and the “whirly-twirly toy” he was playing with in the first place. And everybody leaves happily and very amusingly – the picture of the escape from the snake’s stomach is explosively funny – with the snake left behind, complaining of “a crummy tummyache.” So all ends happily, the boy lies down for a nap at the base of the tree with his toy beside him, and – wait! Is that a very toothy crocodile peeking out of the water? Bernstrom and Wenzel leave the book at this point – kids can make up a new story, or more of this one, on their own.

     Things are less exotic, by the standards of picture books, in I Love Cake! But they are, in their own way, just as much fun. Tammi Sauer’s book is about three friends called Rabbit (a rabbit), Porcupine (a porcupine), and Moose (a moose, but obviously a joker, since he introduces himself as Frog). Angie Rozelaar’s pictures make the bouncy interactions of the trio clear: all are wide-eyed most of the time, but all have their own personalities. Rabbit loves to be in charge, so on her birthday, she arranges her own party and invites her two friends. Porcupine loves to have fun and just goes along with whatever the plans may be, as long as they let him play games and have a good time. And Moose – well, Moose is a kidder. Getting ready for the party, he exclaims, “I love boiled turnips. Ha! I do not. I love cake.” It turns out – this is where the thin plot thickens a bit – that Moose loves cake a little too much. As the friends play, Moose is constantly distracted by the smell of birthday cake, and after a while he disappears – only to be found by Rabbit, who asks whether there are cake crumbs on Moose’s fur. Moose says no and suggests that “maybe a badger ate the cake.” But soon the truth comes out, and everyone is upset – Rabbit because her party is ruined, Porcupine because he is not having fun, and Moose because he is not bad, only thoughtless, and is “really sorry.” That is not good enough for Rabbit and Porcupine, though, and soon the three friends are at odds with one another. Moose tries to think of a way to make up for eating the cake, but nothing occurs to him except maybe a singing gorilla – until he realizes that he can replace the cake. So he makes one and brings it over to Rabbit’s house, where Rabbit and Porcupine try to ignore him – unsuccessfully, because “Moose was just so Moose.” So the friendship is rekindled, and it turns out that everyone loves cake, which is about as sweet an ending as possible for a book that can be read both for fun and as a lesson in cooperating with friends and telling the truth – and making amends if you do something wrong.

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