September 27, 2018


I Love You Through and Through at Christmas, Too! By Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak. Illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $8.99.

Bobs and Tweets 3: Trick or Tweet. By Pepper Springfield. Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. Scholastic. $5.99.

How to Draw a Unicorn and Other Cute Animals. By Lulu Mayo. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Every holiday offers new opportunities for bringing out books filled with adorableness. The family focus of secular Christmas celebrations is particularly well-suited to the sort of warmth and sweetness offered by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak and illustrated in hyper-cute style by Caroline Jayne Church in I Love You Through and Through at Christmas, Too! There is nothing surprising or unusual in the text: “I love you when you are laughing and giggling,” for example, and “I love you with bells and wreaths” to offer some seasonal words. It is the pictures that are the real joy here, as a little boy and his beloved (and alive) teddy bear enjoy winter both indoors and outside. The “laughing and giggling” page, for instance, shows them sliding down a long hill – or maybe bouncing, since they have no sled, or flying, since they leave no tracks in the snow – while holding hands (or hand-and-paw) with mirrored expressions of joy. The “bells and wreaths” page has the little boy, mouth wide open, ringing two bells while wearing a third on a ribbon around his neck, while the teddy bear holds his ears (well, the sides of his head) in reaction to what is obviously a lot of seasonal noise. Other pages offer the same mixture of straightforward text with sweetly special illustrations: “hugging and snuggling,” with the eyes-closed teddy bear tightly swaddled and the boy hugging him close, the two of them wearing matching Santa-style caps, is especially adorable, but all the pictures are similarly seasonally sweet. An easy-to-hold, easy-to-read, easy-to-enjoy board book, I Love You Through and Through at Christmas, Too! is strictly for one specific time of year, but is enjoyable enough to be put away after the Christmas season and brought out again a year later to bring warmth all over again.

     Equally seasonal in focus, and sweet in its own way – and not just because of all the candy – the third Bobs and Tweets book by Pepper Springfield, with illustrations by Kristy Caldwell, takes what is now a well-established set of suburban circumstances and gives it Halloween twists. Trick or Tweet is for kids who are already familiar with the inevitable conflicts between the Bobs (boys who are slobs) and the Tweets (girls who are neat) – conflicts that played out amusingly in the series’ first two books. Although those disagreements do emerge late in Trick or Tweet, the book is mostly about the two family members who do not fit in and have therefore become fast friends: Dean Bob (who insists on being neat and orderly) and Lou Tweet (who prefers things to be scattered and messy). Along with Dean’s dog and Lou’s cat, the friends go trick-or-tweeting…err, treating…along Bonefish Street, where both families live. The setup of the story makes the family contrasts clear: the Bobs are costumed as slobbery and messy zombies, while the thin and tidy Tweets are dressed as string beans (and kids who come to their house get light-up toothbrushes, not candy). Most of the book, though, follows Dean and Lou (who dresses up her family’s obligatory bean costume by wearing some vampire fangs with it) as they and their pets go house-to-house both for candy and to enter the Best Halloween Block contest, for which they have to visit all the homes on their street and keep a running list of what each is giving out. That is not much of a contest, but its point is simply to organize the book a bit and give Dean and Lou a chance to re-meet characters from the earlier books and encounter some new ones – leading, at the end, to a new friendship built on Halloween fun. Before that happens, though, there is a power outage that affects the whole street and brings out both the Bobs and the Tweets to check on Dean and Lou, the result being a lifestyle confrontation that of course then turns into cooperation in the name of holiday fun. Trick or Tweet is rather sloppily written – rhymes are often a touch off, and even when they work, lines frequently do not scan well: “‘The prizes are really awesome,’ adds Dean./  ‘We can win free costumes for next Halloween.’” But it is all in good fun, and kids who enjoyed the first two, non-seasonal books will also have a good time with this holiday-themed one.

     Certain forms of the adorable reach to and beyond specific holidays – such as the cartoon drawings of Lulu Mayo. And now there is a guide by Mayo showing kids how to do their own Mayo-style art – a book that could be a great deal of fun during holidays that might not work out as planned (rainy Halloween, too-icy Christmas, etc.). Almost everything Mayo creates is plump-bodied, and even though the eyes are always dots or other filled-in shapes, the characters are expressive thanks to other facial features and their body postures. Cartoonists in general use simple-to-draw shapes as the basis for their characters, then modify the shapes to give each character personality. And that is just what Mayo does in How to Draw a Unicorn and Other Cute Animals. The pages use a simple-to-follow pattern. The left-hand page shows the shapes used to create a critter and takes kids through several steps to finish a basic outline. Then Mayo colors in and decorates the animal – and then leaves a blank space where kids can “have a go” or “doodle your own.” The right-hand page has one or more fully-drawn animals, sometimes in costume or with background art, plus plenty of space for kids to add their own creations to the scene: “Fill this page with cats in hats,” for example, or “Draw more gorillas having a workout.” Whatever animal kids create will start with the basic shapes in ways that Mayo makes very clear. A flamingo, for example, has a circle for a head, a long and thin rectangle for a neck, and a raindrop shape for a body; the titular unicorn – a very plump one, not the sleek and elegant sort kids may see elsewhere – starts with a small oval for a head with a larger one, slightly bent into kidney shape, for its body; a panda starts as a big rectangle, on top of which two small circles become ears, two rounded triangles are used for feet, and two small ovals are arms; and so on. The panda pages also show kids how to take basic body shapes and modify them to give different animals of the same type their own personalities: Mayo shows a baby panda, cuddly panda, squatty panda and stretchy panda, all recognizably created with the same method but all looking quite different even though all are recognizably panda-ish. The nice thing about How to Draw a Unicorn and Other Cute Animals is that even kids with limited artistic skills will find animals here that they can create – and unlike some artists, Mayo does not make her finished versions of creatures so super-complex that kids will despair of doing anything similar. The whole book has a pleasant let’s-draw-together feeling about it that should be fun for kids during any holiday, or no holiday at all.

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