March 14, 2019


Arrr, Mustache Baby! By Bridget Heos. Illustrations by Joy Ang. Clarion. $17.99.

     The third meandering of the mischievous, mustachioed Baby Billy – after Mustache Baby and Mustache Baby Meets His Match – takes this clever Bridget Heos/Joy Ang series into ever-more-complex territory. The first book introduced Baby Billy, who was born with a mustache that has the ability to be a good-guy type or a bad-guy type – neatly reflecting Billy’s moods. The second book brought Baby Billy face-to-face and facial-hair-to-facial-hair with Baby Javier, who was born with an impressive beard that, like Billy’s mustache, changes shape and appearance depending on whether Javier is a baby of sweetness and light or has gone over to the dark side. And now there is a piece of piratical tale-telling called Arrr, Mustache Baby! This gives both Billy and Javier plenty of chances to display their adorable facial hair in both positive and negative ways.

     The two are now fast friends, first seen setting out to “sail across the seven seas” – that is, they are aboard a blow-up boat in a community swimming pool. Heos and Ang quickly set in motion the reality/unreality balance of the book by showing Billy and Javier rescuing “shipwrecked passengers” (a Barbie-ish doll that has fallen into the pool) and saving “stranded whales” (an older pool user who was quite happy being out of the water until the boys unceremoniously pushed him into it to “save” him). Proud of themselves, Billy and Javier continue playing in a variety of watery ways, delightfully shown by Ang in Polaroid-like photos depicting the two babies as submarine scientists, polar explorers and more. But there’s dirty work afoot! Javier and Billy soon learn of Captain Kid and Short John Silver, evil pirates (actually, of course, two other babies) who “had stolen a treasure and buried it” (that is, they have put miscellaneous pool toys in the sand of the sandbox).

     Being good guys, Javier and Billy, dressed in cute white sailor suits, rush to the sandbox, dig up the buried toys, and return them to their owners – only to be threatened by “a strange ship” (a blow-up pink flamingo sporting a pirate eye patch) aboard which are none other than Captain Kid and Short John Silver. Several water balloons later, Billy and Javier find their ship boarded by the pirates, who demand the treasure – leading to a duel with pool noodles, plastic shovels and such. Uh-oh – fighting! Where will this lead? Well, given the premise of these books, it has to lead to a bigger, curlier mustache for Billy and a longer, pointier beard for Javier – that is, to the two being transformed into their bad-guy alter egos.

     And so the heroic baby sailors become dastardly baby “pillaging pirates” who not only keep the sandbox treasure for themselves but also, Heos writes, “sacked every sailor at sea” and “dropped anchor and looted the landlubbers!” But back in the real world, that means Billy and Javier are taking other kids’ pool toys, grabbing people’s snacks and so on – not acceptable, as the facial-hair babies discover when their parents loom over them at poolside and the two boys, crying like the babies they, after all, really are, are carted away by the distinctly unamused adults. This must mean it is time for overexcited little ones to take a nap – but in piratical terms, Heos writes, “Guilty they were and send to the dungeon!” Yet they sleep peacefully in their respective cribs, wake up regretting “their raiding and ransacking,” decide they would rather be heroes than bad guys, make friends with Captain Kid and Short John Silver, and end up being happy, healthy, playful babies who are sweet and well-behaved – that is, as the final page of the book shows, most of the time. Readers already familiar with the Mustache Baby books will delight in this more-action-packed-than-ever story. And since Heos presents but never explains the facial hair that distinguishes Billy and Javier from other babies, it is not necessary to know the earlier books to have a lot of fun with Arrr, Mustache Baby! It does help to know them, though, simply because three Mustache Baby books are three times as much fun as any single one.

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