August 10, 2017


Confiscated! By Suzanne Kaufman. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Hannah Sparkles: A Friend Through Rain or Shine. By Robin Mellom. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Harper. $17.99.

     The trials and tribulations of friendship are a frequent theme in picture books, and the eventual message of cooperation and getting along is a standard one. But the circumstances, and the form in which the concluding message is delivered, may differ greatly – which is why so many books on this topic can be enjoyable. The eventual friends in Suzanne Kaufman’s Confiscated! happen to be brothers and happen to be sort-of-lizardlike-sort-of-dinosaurs, at least as they have been Photoshopped to be. Brooks and Mikey fight constantly, as many siblings do, and in particular they fight over things – toys and games of all sorts. Unsurprisingly, this state of affairs is extremely annoying to their mother and is thoroughly unacceptable to her. So she teaches the boys the meaning of the word “confiscated” by taking away anything about which they fight. But they fight about everything, from Grandpa’s tuba to a Mexican wrestling mask: Kaufman has great fun showing just what sorts of things provoke the boys into fights and just how many ways those fights occur. The problem is that there are, after all, only so many things in the house over which fights are possible (even including the dog); so after a while, Kaufman shows the two boys all alone with a plain white background on one page while the facing page shows a locked storage cabinet absolutely bulging with confiscated items (and with the dog peering out rather nervously through the slightly open doors). By now, “Mama had confiscated ALL their toys.” And Brooks and Mikey are bored. Really, really bored. So bored that they TALK to each other instead of fighting. And that talking leads to something totally unexpected, at least by them: cooperation! They decide, together, to get a favorite red balloon out of the “confiscation cabinet.” To do that, they pile up everything they can find, from a salami to a Viking helmet  to a fishbowl (complete with fish) to a clock and a cactus and an old-fashioned record player, creating a mountainous mess that they can climb to get to the slightly open cabinet door and pull the balloon out. Great idea – except that pulling it out snaps the cabinet’s lock, and everything comes tumbling out and tumbling down; yes, even the lava lamp and the whole watermelon, the ship in a bottle and the freshly baked pie. And THEN…a shadow looms over the scene, and a very large and definitely dinosaurish Mama appears. But it turns out she is not angry about the mess – because the boys are sharing the balloon and actually being friendly to each other. So a happy ending is had by all, although Mama reminds the boys that they still have to clean everything up.

     Mess-making figures as well in Robin Mellom’s Hannah Sparkles: A Friend Through Rain or Shine, a book about a girl with an exceptionally sparkly name and a personality to match. Ever-smiling Hannah spends her time cheering the world with pom-poms and drawing double rainbows, because just one rainbow is not enough to contain all her hyper-cheeriness. Just imagine how happy she is when a new family moves to the neighborhood, along with a girl her own age – with the even-more-sparkly name of Sunny Everbright. Wow! Or – maybe not. Hannah has huge blue eyes and dresses in bright, clashing colors, but Sunny is dark-eyed, dark-haired and dressed almost completely in black and gray. Uh-oh. Hannah tries her best to be friendly: she takes Sunny outdoors to find butterflies, but Sunny is more interested in a lizard she discovers. Hannah draws unicorns – Sunny draws centipedes. Hannah shows how to use magenta for drawing hearts – Sunny prefers drawing a large black spider. Hannah picks strawberries – Sunny gets messily down in the mud to interact with a frog. Nothing works for Hannah: Sunny does not even smile when Hannah gets out her pom-poms and cheers Sunny on at hopscotch and other games. And then, to make matters worse, it starts to rain, and rain is not one of Hannah’s happy things. But now Sunny smiles! And in some of Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s most evocative illustrations, she dances, runs sloppily through puddles, plays in a mess of mud, and generally acts “super-strange,” at least by Hannah’s standards. Bewildered, Hannah asks her mom that night why Hannah’s favorite things do not make Sunny happy – and her mom suggests that “maybe Sunny finds her sparkle in other things.” Lesson learned – especially when Sunny leaves Hannah a let’s-play invitation on which Sunny has drawn a smiling lizard carrying an umbrella. Friendships, after all, are like other growing things: they need both rain and sun to thrive.

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