Take a Ride by My Side. By Jonathan Ying. Illustrated by Victoria Ying. Harper. $14.99.
Toad on the Road: Mama and Me. By Stephan Shaskan. Harper. $17.99.
“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!” So wrote Dr. Seuss in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The words could be the motto for both these books for kids ages 4-8 – both are all about going from place to place and finding enjoyable (if not laugh-out-loud funny) things at every location. In Jonathan Ying’s Take a Ride by My Side, two friends, a cat and a dog, start out on “a trip from here to there” with minimal luggage but big plans. This is a book where the journey definitely matters more than the various destinations (except for the final one). The whole book is about ways of getting from place to place, starting with a bicycle with a sidecar (hence the book’s title) and then traveling in a canoe, a submarine, an airplane and even a rocket ship. Apparently the dog – who is the one who keeps proposing going onward to somewhere new – has both a pilot’s license and an astronaut’s rocket-flying ability, since dog and cat eventually travel all the way to the moon. Victoria Ying draws both characters simply, with an emphasis on their big eyes and almost perfectly round heads. Eventually, though, the two make it to the very best place of all: their home, where the whole adventure started. “But even though it’s fun to roam,/ there’s nowhere quite as great as home,” writes Jonathan Ying, as the friends sit in their living room in front of a wall on which there are pictures of all their adventures. Hmm…Victoria Ying never shows either of them carrying a camera or cell phone, so who took those photos, including the one on the moon’s surface and the one shot deep underwater from outside the submarine? Young readers may well wonder just what happened. Parents can come up with whatever answer they like, or just suggest that kids think something up on their own.
The second Toad on the Road book keeps its characters earthbound and in pretty much the same area, but it expands on Stephen Shaskan’s previous Toad book, in which characters who worried about Toad sitting in the road eventually got help for their vehicles from Toad’s mother, who turned out to be a tow-truck driver. In Toad on the Road: Mama and Me, both Toad and Mama Toad are in the truck (labeled “Mama Toad’s Towing”) and are being helpful to everybody, with the repeated refrain, “Mama and Toad will save the day!/ Everyone shout: Hip hip hooray!” First Mama and Toad come upon Goat, whose delivery truck (“Bob’s Bounce Houses”) has run out of gas. So they supply some. Then they encounter Fox’s van (“Bob’s Balloons”) with a flat tire – which they promptly change. And then they find Moose’s car (“Bob’s Pizza”) stuck in some mud at the side of the road – and use the hook on the back of their tow truck to get the car out. Goat, Fox and Moose all show their appreciation for the help with thanks and a statement that their deliveries “will surely get through” because of the toads’ tow truck’s assistance. And where do you suppose all the deliveries might be going? To a thank-you party for Toad and Mama Toad for all they help they give everyone! Shaskan’s cartoon illustrations are broadly conceived, with little attempt to make the animals at all realistic – clearly these characters are stand-ins for humans showing their appreciation for friends and helpers. The final page’s “hooray to our friends for all that they do” message makes the book’s focus abundantly clear. Gently amusing and written with plenty of easy-to-remember repetition, Toad on the Road: Mama and Me will be fun not only for early readers but also for pre-readers, who will enjoy the easy-to-follow rhythm of Shaskan’s rhyming.
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