June 14, 2018


New Shoes. By Chris Raschka. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Good Night, Little Monsters. By Kara LaReau. Illustrated by Brian Won. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $8.99.

     For the youngest children, from pre-readers to early readers, it can be a special delight to find themselves – or kids very much like themselves – in books, dealing with exactly the same issues of everyday life that young kids experience. Chris Raschka takes this situation to a logical and charming extreme in New Shoes, a book with which any shoe-wearing child can identify – since Raschka never shows the child at all. The entire book consists of pictures of a child’s legs and feet, plus an adult hand or arm here and there. And the story is simplicity itself. It starts when “Mommy is going to put my shoes on me,” and that is just what she does – but the child discovers that the shoes “have a hole here” (pointing to one edge), “and a hole here” (pointing to the sole). This is actually fun: “I can put my finger in. Hee-hee!” But it also means it is time for new shoes – so child and mother head for the shoe store, where “a man takes off my old shoes” and measures the child’s feet, discovering that they “are bigger than before!” Then it is time to look at possible replacement shoes, try some on to find ones that are comfortable, and head home – all part of one of those mundane adventures that really are adventures for children doing them for the first time, or one of the first times. Not surprisingly, the child is so excited by his new shoes that he wants “to show Emma,” his friend (the child himself is unnamed). And he does so – and when he does, Raschka offers pictures of the feet and shoes of two children. The watercolor-and-gouache illustrations, very simple in appearance and pleasantly rounded, fit the story quite well, and while Raschka never reveals definitively whether the child who gets new shoes is a boy or a girl, he does use the visual medium cleverly to show that the book’s central character has white skin, while his friend, Emma, is African-American. There is no particular message to that except one of inclusivity – but the inclusiveness nicely complements the underlying theme of New Shoes, which is that kids of all sorts have small adventures like this one all the time, and inevitably want to share them with friends.

     And how does one turn bedtime, a standard nightly event, into something amusing and enjoyable for young book readers and pre-readers? Kara LaReau has a highly amusing idea: show all the kids getting ready for bed as various types of monsters – harmless ones – and have text in which their monster moms and diabolical dads wish them good night and a good rest. Thanks to deliciously silly Brian Won illustrations, Good Night, Little Monsters is a monstrously enjoyable board book. For example, it begins, “Good night, Frankenbaby./ Lay down your green head./ Let’s loosen your bolts/ and tuck you in bed.” And little Frankenbaby, sporting a big smile and proudly displaying his two teeth, is seen sitting quietly while a grown-up arm holding a screwdriver reaches toward him, preparing to loosen one of the two bolts in his neck. And so the whole book goes, with “precious zombie” having a bedtime snack, “dear vampire” hanging upside-down from the shower-curtain rod while preparing to brush her teeth, little “Loch Nessie” cuddled in the lake between two large versions whose heads and bodies form the shape of a heart, and so forth. There is a “bed-tomb story” for “mummy honey,” a howled lullaby for “darling wolfboy,” a big cuddle for “little Bigfoot,” and some bed bouncing for two “gleeful goblins.” And then, at the very end of the book, all the little monsters pack themselves into a tent by a campfire and doze off, with Loch Nessie’s tail sticking all the way through and out of the tent, the wolfboy sleeping on top rather than inside, and the child vampire hanging upside-down from a nearby tree branch. It is a monstrously peaceful scene that is just the thing for parents to show their own little monsters at bedtime – a great example of turning a case of the “nothing special” of getting ready to sleep into something very special indeed.

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