March 08, 2018


Truck Full of Ducks. By Ross Burach. Scholastic. $17.99.

Ranger Rick: I Wish I Was a Gorilla. By Jennifer Bové. Harper. $16.99.

     Ross Burach has a seriously skewed sense of humor, and it is in full flower, or maybe full feather, in Truck Full of Ducks. The concept itself is ridiculous, and the cover illustration – showing a baseball-cap-wearing dog driving a truck in the back of which 11 very different-looking and very strange-looking ducks are cavorting – certainly sets the scene. The back cover takes things a step (or flutter) further: it is a roadside billboard for the duck-delivery company, promising to deliver ducks anytime and anywhere and sporting the motto, “Look for the truck with the quack in the back!” And those are just the book’s covers. There is lots more ridiculousness inside. The inside front cover shows the ducks getting ready for a day’s work: they have storage lockers and benches to sit on and lunchboxes and pizza to nibble and a newspaper to read (front-page headline: “Stuff Happened”) and a Bladder Buster drink featuring two swirly straws and a coffee mug saying “Is It Friday Yet?” And there are motivational/advertising posters on the walls, one of which announces, “Voted 3rd Fastest Duck Delivery Service in Town,” which is sure to make kids wonder who came in first and second. And we are not even up to the book’s title page! Eventually the story starts with the dog boss taking an order on his duck-shaped phone (amid much other duck décor) and heading the duck truck out onto a street where a sign pointing left says “this way” and one pointing right says “that way” and a yellow describe-the-road sign shows the road ahead twisted into spaghetti, only with more curlicues. One of the ducks then eats the directions, and now there is real trouble – and a great plot, as dog and ducks try to figure out who placed the order. It is not the little girl: she called for a mail truck to take her boxed-up little brother “very far away.” It is not the construction worker: he wanted a dump truck, and the one that shows up says “Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Haul” on its side. It is not the shark, pig and crab, three buddies who called for an ice cream truck – but that’s just fine with the duck truck, since the ducks on the truck quickly tuck into iced treats of all sorts. Everything would be just ducky if the boss dog could figure out who called for the truck – no, not the pirate, and not the alien, and not the man who has had more than enough of ducks and called for a duck removal truck. Eventually, very eventually, the mystery is solved, with a visit to the address of 1 Scary Way in the Deep Dark Woods – a place that the ducks enter with shivers, as one of them puts the finishing touches on his last will and testament. But everything turns out just fine – Burach would not have it any other way – and the ducks eventually head back to the office, along the way passing a “Van Full of Toucans.” And that is merely the end of the main story – there is still more amusement on the inside back cover. Burach has the mind of a six-year-old, more or less, or at least the ability to channel one – and Truck Full of Ducks will delight kids on both sides of that approximate age, say from ages four to eight. Oh – and it will also delight adults who, like Burach himself, obstinately refuse to stay grown up.

     The writing is simpler and more direct in another book for the four-to-eight age range, Ranger Rick: I Wish I Was a Gorilla. But the message here is far more down-to-earth and entirely factual. This is a Level 1 book (“simple sentences for eager new readers”) in the “I Can Read!” series. It is also a book with an intriguing premise: Jennifer Bové asks kids to imagine what it would be like to be a gorilla. She then writes as if the wish has come true, explaining where and how gorillas live, what they eat, and how they behave. Photos of gorillas in the wild are the main visual element here, with occasional questions from Ranger Rick, the National Wildlife Federation’s cartoon raccoon. For instance, Bové explains that gorillas live in rainforests, where “the weather is often cloudy with lots of rainy days,” and the raccoon asks, “Do you play outside on rainy days?” Questions like this help focus young readers’ attention on differences between humans and gorillas. But there are also plenty of similarities, which Bové’s text and the photos highlight. Mother gorillas kiss and cuddle their babies; baby gorillas like to play – they run around and climb trees; young gorillas engage in wrestling and chasing games with their friends; and so on. There is information here on gorilla language – that is, the meanings of several sounds gorillas make – and gorilla food, including “leaves and stems” of plants, “roots and fruits,” and sometimes insects. And here Ranger Rick asks, “If you ate like a gorilla, what food would you miss?” The combination of interesting photos with simple but accurate textual description and occasional questions makes this book a very good first look at the world’s largest primates. And there is additional information at the end, including a place to go online to learn more about gorillas. There is also an amusing recipe for humans that is called “Ants on a Stick” but that is somewhat different from the ants on a stick that gorillas really eat: for humans, the idea is to take sticks, or rather stalks, of celery…coat them with cream cheese or peanut butter…and then stick raisins to the coated areas “so that they look like ants crawling along a stem.” Add a little gorilla language, and kids can imagine, if only for a moment or two, that any wish they had to become gorillas has temporarily come true.

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