December 13, 2018
(++++) SWEET AND SOUR
The Bad Guys #8: Superbad. By Aaron Blabey. Scholastic. $5.99.
Peep, Peep, I Love You! By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.
Mama Loves Her Silly Goose! By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.
Our Little Love Bug! By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $8.99.
There is nothing nice about the Bad Guys, the heroic antiheroes of Aaron Blabey’s extended series of ridiculous comic-book-style adventures. No, these guys are bad, even if in a good way. They are also, well, guys, which turns out to be part of the amusement in the series’ eighth entry, Superbad. This is emphatically not a satisfactory entry point for newcomers to Blabey’s sequence, because the book makes absolutely no sense if you have not read prior ones. It does not make a whole lot of sense if you have read the earlier volumes, but let that pass. The previous book was called Do-You-Think-He-Saurus?! It transitioned the series from one about formerly-bad-but-now-trying-to-be-good characters fighting an evil alien disguised as the world’s most adorable guinea pig into one about formerly-bad-but-now-trying-to-be-good characters trying to return from the age of dinosaurs to the modern world, just in time to encounter an alien invasion orchestrated by the aforementioned evil alien. Oh, and the equipment that returns the Bad Guys to modern life endows them with superpowers and brings along a dinosaur that said equipment transforms into the smartest creature in the world, or maybe the universe. Nothing complex here at all, right? Well, in Superbad, there is a hilarious opening sequence in which the Bad Guys use their newfound powers to fight off monstrous alien war machines – not. Unfortunately, the Bad Guys are completely unable to control their powers. Mr. Piranha’s super speed does nothing but get him to zoom head-first into walls and hard objects, very quickly. Mr. Shark’s transformational ability has him turn into a tremendously threatening….toaster. Mr. Snake’s ability to levitate objects works fine, but hurling the items in the right direction, or even putting them down properly, works much less well. And Mr. Wolf’s super-strength would be useful if it didn’t cause him to burst out of his clothing and realize that he is naked, causing him to flee in monumental embarrassment. As for Mr. Tarantula – well, he initiated the sequence that gave the others superpowers, but that means he did not get any himself, so he is in a major funk – until Milton, the dinosaur with an IQ of 512, picks Mr. Tarantula to hatch an alien-beating plan. Now, this is not nearly complicated enough for Blabey’s taste, so all these failures and plans and arrangements occur at the same time as the introduction of the members of the International League of Heroes, a group that has been alluded to in prior volumes but whose only visible member has previously been Agent Fox. In Superbad, readers meet the rest of the league members: Agent Kitty Kat, Agent Hogwild, Agent Doom, and Agent Shortfuse. And they are all, well, girls, which makes for some interesting sidelights on all the mayhem and ridiculousness. The International League of Heroes manages to more-or-less whip the Bad Guys into fighting shape by the end of Superbad, and everything seems to be going along as well as things ever go along in this series – until Rupert Marmalade, the evil alien/adorable guinea pig, shows up at the end of the book and spoils everything just enough to set the stage for whatever is going to show up at the beginning, middle and end of the next book. Whew.
Matters are considerably calmer and animals considerably cuter and sweeter in the many board books by Sandra Magsamen, who is constantly finding new ways for parents to say “I love you” to young children and for kids to interact with all the adorableness. For example, there is a plush basket of multicolored eggs tightly bound into the cover of Peep, Peep, I Love You! This lets kids feel and push on something cute and squishy even before the book is opened – and they have plenty to do after it is opened, too. This one is a lift-the-flaps book about farm-animal parents and babies, all drawn by Magsamen in her usual looking-like-a-sampler style. First there is a mommy cow munching grass on a left-hand page – and on the right are three smiling flowers drawn on a flap that opens to the words “Moo, Moo” and a picture of a baby calf. Then there is a mommy sheep, looking sweetly woolly, on the left, while rows of vegetables adorn the flap on the right – which opens to the words “Baa, Baa” and a picture of a little lamb. After several farm animals are shown, Magsamen concludes the book by putting all of them, moms and babies alike, on a left-hand page, while the right-hand one shows an attractive red barn and affirms that even though there are lots of mommies and babies on the farm, “my favorite baby in the world is – YOU!” This is Magsamen’s usual message, delivered in her usual method, in a book whose interactivity is only part of its charm. One thing the book does not have, though, is a goose; but Magsamen offers that in Mama Loves Her Silly Goose! This is not an interactive book but is an unusually shaped one, much taller than it is wide (a bit like a heavy-cardboard pamphlet). The attraction here is the “goose” part – specifically Mother Goose. What Magsamen does in the book is to take well-known Mother Goose rhymes and abridge and twist them just enough to make them enjoyable – and non-scary – for the littlest children. The white rabbit in “Row, row, row your boat” looks thoroughly relaxed and happy, as do the little yellow fish jumping about. But that is a straightforward and pleasant rhyme. What about “Humpty Dumpty”? Well, he does have the traditional “great fall” in Magsamen’s version of the rhyme – and shows a big frown when it happens – but instead of the king’s horses and men unable to reassemble Humpty, Magsamen writes, “Mommy and Daddy knew what to do: They gave him lots of hugs and kisses, too!” So this turns into an ultimately happy experience – which is the direction in which Magsamen likes to take pretty much everything. Jack and Jill, for another example, do fall down the hill, but the “broke his crown” line about Jack is missing: he is a teddy bear who twirls around rather happily, upside down, as he heads downhill, and Jill is also seen twirling down the hill, right side up. By combining well-known Mother Goose rhymes with her own sense of how to bring comfort and enjoyment to the youngest children, Magsamen here encourages the same sort of parent-child bonding that she aims for in her other board books – all of which keep things short, sweet and enjoyable for parents and kids alike.
There are no geese to be found in Magsamen’s Our Little Love Bug! But the basic cute cuddliness of her farm-animal and Mother Goose board books shines through in this one as well. As the title hints and the smiling, six-legged, multicolored caterpillar on the front confirms, this is a book inviting parents to “go buggy” about their little ones. And it encourages young children to touch and feel the illustrations, each of which has bug parts – feet, legs, wings – made out of soft felt (the cover calls this a “Heart-Felt Book” – awwww!). Magsamen creates her own text here, with her usual bright colors enhancing key words on each page: “Your smile is so sweet, it makes our days,” for example, has the word “smile” in a larger size than the other words and in multiple colors – with different designs for the different letters (red stripes on the white “i,” white polka dots on the orange “e,” and so forth). The book continues with, “You brighten our world in so many ways” – showing a black-and-green moth with yellow felt wings – and eventually wends its way to truly adorable adult and baby purple spiders, the little one’s eight legs all created in felt for a text that concludes with the book’s title, “you’re our little love bug!” Parents need not worry about any “ickiness factor” involving Magsamen’s bugs, which are about as un-icky as it is possible to be. She shows yet again in this book that characters of all kinds can be used to reach out to parents and very young children to affirm love, warmth, and all sorts of adorableness.