September 06, 2018


Good Night, Mr. Panda. By Steve Antony. Scholastic. $16.99.

Good Night, My Love. By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.

Monster Academy. By Jane Yolen & Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Illustrated by John McKinley. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $17.99.

     The underlying gentleness of Steve Antony’s Mr. Panda makes him just the right sort of character to remind young children of everything they need to do before going to sleep – he is never pushy about anything. In Good Night, Mr. Panda, the title character’s friends come by one at a time to say good night to him – but there is a little something missing each time. First, Hippo comes to Mr. Panda, who is taking a bath, to say good night – but the wavy lines coming from Hippo’s hugely opened mouth indicate that not everything is quite right: “You’ve forgotten to brush your teeth,” says Mr. Panda. Hippo says he will just brush them twice in the morning – and Lemur chimes in, from the very top of the page, “My mouth is minty fresh.” Then Skunk heads for bed, as Mr. Panda holds his nose and says Skunk has forgotten to take a bath – but Skunk says he’s fine, since he takes one every month. And again, Lemur is at the tip-top of the page saying, “I’m squeaky clean.” Sloth is too tired to go to bed, he says, and Mr. Panda says that all the sheep have forgotten their pajamas – but they point out to him that they do not wear them. “But lemurs do,” says Lemur, now seen wearing red-striped pajamas to go with his black-striped tail. Then Mr. Panda himself heads for bed, but Lemur reminds him that he has forgotten something: to give Lemur a hug. And by the time he does that, Mr. Panda is so tired that he falls asleep in Lemur’s bed – leaving Lemur to sleep in Mr. Panda’s. The gentle reminders of nighttime rituals mix well with the endearing portraits of the various animals to produce a bedtime book that will serve as an amusing and enjoyable way to help kids ages 4-8 find their way to dreamland.

     For even younger children, Sandra Magsamen’s lift-the-flap board book, Good Night, My Love, will provide plenty of reassurance and lots of attractive, simple drawings with which to interact as bedtime approaches. The front cover sports a pleasant, plush, silver almost-crescent moon – quite suitable for poking and cuddling – on which a baby bear is sleeping. Then the text starts with Magsamen’s “Good night, my little buttercup,” showing a smiling flower in a flower pot – and pulling down the flap shows the flower leaning to one side, still smiling but with eyes closed, apparently fast asleep. There is a “precious baby bear” seen sleeping on the moon – an in-book version of the cover scene. “My little monkey” is seen hanging upside-down from a branch, clutching a bunch of bananas – and then, under the flap, is in bed and holding a yellow star. “My little sunshine” has an endearing sun going to sleep on some clouds – wearing a night cap. And finally there is the little bear again, now under a blanket showing pictures of the characters and objects from earlier in the book, being told, “Sweet dreams, sleep tight,” and then having eyes comfortably closed underneath the book’s final flap. Like all the Magsamen board books, this one combines mild interactivity, suitable for the youngest pre-readers, with a sweetly reassuring message that, in this case, should make for an easy and pleasant transition from the day’s activities to the night’s rest.

     Waking up and getting on with life, on the other hand, can bring tremendous exuberance – as it does in Monster Academy, written by Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple. From the bizarre-but-not-scary opening picture of the school itself, to Principal Frank N. Stein’s invitation to enter the classroom, to the introduction of the various monster-ish (but not really monstrous) students, Yolen and Stemple – abetted by John McKinley’s deliberately overdone illustrations – take school-age or almost-school-age human kids through a typical day at a far-from-typical place of learning. The teacher is Miss Mummy, who has one eye within her bandages and one bulging out of them – and her very own curse: “Mine is that I speak in verse./ But it could be worse!” One student is Serpentina, who is green and toothy and has hair made of snakes; and is Spec, whose one gigantic eyeball is half the size of his head; and there are several others. And today there is a new student, Tornado Jo – who bangs and knocks into everything and everyone while yelling, “No! No! No! No!” She is quickly proclaimed “the worst monster ever!” But Miss Mummy says she will soon learn manners, and the class settles down to activities such as counting their missing teeth (a problem for Vampire Vic, who has one loose fang that has not quite come out yet) and building a Creepy Castle in the lab. Tornado Jo refuses to cooperate with anything or anyone, however, and eventually spins all the others off their feet – at which point she is revealed to be a disguise-wearing HUMAN. That terrifies the monsters, who flee back to the school – where Miss Mummy calms them down and points out that Jo may be human, but she is a monster, too. This satisfies everybody, including Principal Frank N. Stein, and the book ends in happiness and monstrous solidarity, with Miss Mummy’s suitable-for-human-children message, “Sometimes it’s hard when you begin./ But now I think she’ll fit right in.” Parents can reinforce those words with their own little monsters – but may have some difficulty when their human kids insist that they, like Jo, want to go to Monster Academy. Yolen, Stemple and McKinley leave that particular quandary for human parents to handle on their own.

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