March 30, 2017
(++++) AWWW, SO CUTE!
Pig the Winner. By Aaron Blabey. Scholastic. $14.99.
Animal Planet: Baby Animals. By Dorothea DePrisco. Liberty Street. $12.95.
Animal Planet: Animals on the Move. By Dorothea DePrisco. Liberty Street. $12.95.
Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Pug is adorable in spite of himself. He is selfish, nasty, picky and, as we find out in Pig the Winner, a cheater who – if he loses despite cheating – throws enormous temper tantrums until he is told he has won. Then he celebrates his “victory” as annoyingly as possible. It takes some skill to portray this pampered, self-centered pug as an enjoyable character, but Blabey has that skill: he makes sure that Pig’s behavior is so over-the-top that, although it is recognizable, it is simply too funny to make kids mad. The wide-eyed, bemused expressions of Trevor, the dachshund who shares a home with Pig, help keep things light, and so do the two dogs’ costumes (Trevor dressed for racquet sports is a hoot) and Pig’s own unbelievably huge and bulging eyeballs. Blabey makes sure that Pig’s exaggerated need to win gets him in trouble – for instance, Pig declares a speed-eating contest in which he gobbles so quickly that he swallows not only the food but also his bowl, requiring rescue by Heimlich-maneuver-performing Trevor. Still, Blabey is careful to ensure that Pig does not learn much from his misadventures – that would undermine his whole personality. Thus, after Trevor rescues him, Pig does not say thanks – he just proclaims, “I WIN!” Pig does, of course, get his comeuppance, or in this case come-downance, when the bowl he swallowed bounces off the ceiling after being forcibly ejected from his throat, then hits him and knocks him smack into the trash (in another highly amusing illustration). But the point is that Pig learns only part of his lesson here, just as he learned only part of it in Blabey’s previous book, Pig the Pug. This time, Blabey says Pig now “plays to have fun,/ and his tantrums have ceased./ Yes. Trevor can win now!/ Well, sometimes, at least.” That final line, on the last page, goes with an illustration of the apparently cooperative Pig cheating in the card game that he and Trevor are playing. Pig is ridiculously overdone and, as a result, ridiculously cute, although certainly not worthy of being imitated in real life. That would be ridiculous.
There is adorableness in real-life animals, without any of the angst associated with Pig’s fictional misbehavior. The cuteness is pervasive in the two latest collaborations between Animal Planet and Time Inc. books, Baby Animals and Animals on the Move. The baby creatures are just so utterly yummy that readers will have to remember, if they can, that these are, after all, wild animals, not pets – well, except for the ones that are pets or farm animals or otherwise involved with humans. Reptile babies generally look like miniature versions of adults, but mammal babies have distinctive features that render them astonishingly endearing to mammalian eyes (those of humans as well as those of their parents). This is a survival characteristic, since mammals generally require considerable time to develop before they can manage on their own, while reptiles are generally ready to be out and about almost as soon as they are born or hatched. This is some of the information in Baby Animals, which also deals with creatures that undergo metamorphosis as they grow – tadpoles into frogs, for example, and caterpillars into monarch butterflies – and shows ways in which animal behavior carries over to humans: one page has photos of a baby alligator riding on its mother’s back, a small sloth atop its mother in the trees, and a daughter-and-father pair in a piggyback ride. There are a couple of pages called “handful of cute” that are definitely awwwwww-some, featuring close-up views of baby animals being held by kids: sugar glider, bog turtle, rabbit, squirrel, piglet, hamster and more. The photos throughout the book are excellent, whether showing a much-blown-up closeup of a baby planthopper (the insect is actually just an eighth of an inch long) or explaining how the characteristics of a baby red panda suit it perfectly for its ecological niche and diet. The book is entertainingly laid out and packed with information, although individual facts are presented only very briefly: “Bobcat kittens have bright blue eyes that become green or golden brown by the time the kittens are adults,” for instance, and “a baby giant anteater nurses for about a month.” Baby Animals is well-written by Dorothea DePrisco at an appropriate level for young readers, roughly through the preteen years; and the photos will enthrall kids of all ages, and their parents, too.
DePrisco’s Animals on the Move features plenty of cuteness, too, although that is not its primary point. Here there are some in-motion pictures and facts that are very commonly included in books about animals, such as the cheetah’s running speed of 70 miles per hour for short distances and the basilisk lizard’s ability to run on water. But there are also less-commonly-cited facts, such as the 45-mile-per-hour speed of the red fox and the fact that the sailfish, which grows up to 11 feet long, is the fastest fish in the ocean. There are creatures here that jump (Himalayan blue sheep, kangaroo rats, fleas) and ones that ease along through life (Aldabra giant tortoise, three-toed sloth). And although there are plenty of creatures here that humans would scarcely consider cute – red sea urchin, red claw scorpion, mako shark, slug – there are others that are enjoyable to see as well as learn about: Adélie penguins, flying lemurs, flying squirrels, a handsome group of coyotes. Both this book and Baby Animals do a first-rate job of presenting information easily and in small bites, while showing excellent photos that keep the books visually interesting and make the animals’ anatomy and adaptation to the way they live abundantly clear.