July 27, 2017


Fly Guy’s Big Family. By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

What if You Had Animal Eyes!? By Sandra Markle. Illustrated by Howard McWilliam. Scholastic. $4.99.

     Some books are thin even by the standard of children’s books. But that does not have to stop them from being fun, informative or both. Tedd Arnold’s long-running series about Fly Guy and his owner, whose name Fly Guy can say (“Buzz!”), is always short but always packs a lot of amusement into each book’s pages. Fly Guy’s Big Family fits the mold (and the moldiness) quite well. Finding Fly Guy drawing pictures of his “muzzer” and “fazzer,” Buzz spontaneously decides to give a party for all of Fly Guy’s family, putting up little signs as invitations all over the neighborhood: in trash cans, by smelly thrown-out food, everywhere flies would be likely to see the signs. Sure enough, a fly soon shows up and introduces himself as Fly Guy’s “cuzz,” but is worried about “swatterzz” until Buzz reassures him that “it is safe here!” That is all it takes: suddenly a huge swarm of flies shows up and rushes into the house, to the delight of Buzz (who, yes, is a little strange in his enjoyment of flies; but that, after all, is the whole point of this series). A very funny series of drawings shows Fly Guy happily hugging “cuzz” after “cuzz” and a “bruzzer” and “sizzter” and, eventually, “muzzer” and “fazzer.” And then it is dinnertime. Buzz’s parents, who rarely appear in these books but must surely qualify as some of the most tolerant adults in children’s literature, sit by looking only slightly bewildered as flies dash all around them and their dinner. Then they and Buzz are delighted when they see that a garbage truck has pulled up outside and, well, “dumped garbage in the yard and drove away.” Fly Guy and his family chow down on the huge mess, which does not bother Buzz’s parents at all (very tolerant, they are), and then all the flies take off for their homes and Buzz happily packs all the remaining garbage in big bags so it can, presumably, be picked up when the trash collectors eventually return. Even sillier than the usual Fly Guy book, Fly Guy’s Big Family is all the more fun for the improbability of what happens and the amusing way Arnold plays with children’s-book conventions – for instance, by having Fly Guy’s parents show a photo of Fly Guy as a baby fly, complete with diaper and pacifier.

     Silliness blends with seriousness in the short but well-researched animal-characteristics books by Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam, the latest of which is What if You Had Animal Eyes!? The idea in all these books is to imagine what a child could do with body parts like those of various animals. “If you had chameleon eyes, you could look around the toy store fast to find exactly what you want,” for example. Why? Because although these eyes are “open just enough to peek through,” they move separately, so “the chameleon can look for prey, such as crickets, in two directions at once!” McWilliam’s pictures are a highlight of all these books: his rendition of a girl with chameleon eyes that face in two different directions is just one fine example. Another girl is shown with “golden eagle eyes,” easily watching a football game from a stadium seat so high that everyone nearby needs binoculars to see what is going on. Why? Because the golden eagle “can see up to eight times better than most people.” There is also a great picture of a boy reporter with dragonfly eyes – with those, Markle writes, “you would be a star reporter because you’d never miss any of the action.” Dragonfly eyes actually have 310,000 lenses to pick up visual information from everywhere nearby, while human eyes have only one lens – and a dragonfly also has “three small, extra eyes that help guide its flight path by sensing bright light and shadows.” Real-world photos of the creatures discussed are juxtaposed with the illustrations of people sharing the animals’ (or insects’) characteristics, so there is a visual scientific component to this book as well as an explanatory one. The facts themselves can be quite intriguing: “Each of a tarsier’s giant eyes weighs more than its brain.” But it is the way the facts are presented that will keep kids interested in What if You Had Animal Eyes!? The least intriguing element of this book, as with others in the series, comes at the end, with a discussion of human eyes and how to take care of them – but in the case of this particular book, the diagram showing how human eyes work is actually quite interesting, if not at the level of the information on other creatures’ visual capabilities. Still, for a short book, What if You Had Animal Eyes!? includes a number of thought-provoking questions and topics and presents its information in breezy, pleasantly accessible form.

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