May 27, 2021

(++++) HOW-TO TIME

How to Draw a Bunny and Other Cute Creatures with Simple Shapes in 5 Steps. By Lulu Mayo. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort: Outdoor + Indoor Adventures for Hands-on Girls. By Jenny Fieri. Illustrations by Alexis Seabrook. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Lulu Mayo’s latest showcase of cute cartooning is filled with yet another bunch of the adorable critters in which Mayo specializes – and it is just as much fun as her earlier books, and just as simple to follow and use as the basis for learning a certain kind of drawing. It is amazing to see how easily Mayo transforms circles, ovals, triangles and other simple shapes into adorable-looking animals of all sorts – and the process really is easy enough for young would-be artists to follow. Mayo’s books are participatory: a typical left-hand page goes through the “5 steps” referred to in the book’s subtitle but is subdivided into six areas, the sixth left blank except for words at the bottom in which Mayo urges, “Draw yours,” “Your turn,” or “Have a go!” The left-hand-page encouragement emerges on the right-hand page as something bigger, with Mayo providing a small amount of drawing and leaving plenty of white space for young artists to use in following her suggestions: “Draw more plump guinea pigs here. Try starting with various shapes to create different guinea pig poses.” Or: “Use these shapes to create your own llama band. Can you draw a llama playing a tambourine?” That llama-with-tambourine idea is typical of the amusing, offbeat and, yes, cute notions found throughout How to Draw a Bunny and Other Cute Creatures. The way Mayo explains and dissects the elements of these drawings encourages budding artists to try creations of their own while at the same time showing, again and again, how the basic raw materials of pencil plus easy-to-draw shapes can be used in a wide variety of different ways. “Scribble a crescent nest,” for example, starts a page on birds and eggs, which then shows how the eggs themselves are ovals, the birds have teardrop-shaped bodies and triangular beaks, and their wings are little hearts (an especially sweet touch). Nothing here is intended to be realistic: everything is exaggerated and often mildly humorous. One endearing lesson is called “Raccoon Rabbit” and results in a plump raccoon disguised as a bunny – followed by a “yoga raccoon,” an especially funny “floppy raccoon,” a suggestion for a “dumpling-shaped raccoon,” and more. Then there are notions such as “Groundhog Muffin” (a “wobbly oval and rounded rectangle” for the muffin, with a groundhog poking out of the muffin top), a “Dino Egg” with a smiling baby dinosaur just breaking through, and a “Chocolate Bunny” who adorably asks, “You’ll never eat me, will you?” There is nothing serious here, but plenty that is self-indulgent in terms of adorableness – an entire book whose sole focus is showing how to create cartoon art of the most accessible and amusing sort.

     The ambitions are much broader in The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort, which, despite its title, is not a girl’s guide to building a fort. Jenny Fieri’s book is divided into six activity sections aimed at giving girls a potpourri of ideas and projects of various types – ones selected by the author but not connected to each other in any particular way. This means that the book will really be useful and enjoyable only for girls who happen to share Fieri’s notions of enjoyable things to do and experiences to have – or some of those notions, anyway. The first section, for example, is called “Let’s Be Scientists!” (Each section has an exclamatory title.) Among its elements are the names of clouds and stars, a section on wind (with a make-your-own-turbine activity), “The Ten Birds You Need to Know,” and a paper-airplane project. In the birds section, for instance, Fieri talks about “the ten most common birds you might spot,” but omits ones that the Audubon Society says are among the most common (house sparrow, black-billed magpie, Northern mockingbird) while including the ruby-throated hummingbird, which is not even in Audubon’s top 20. Furthermore, the birds in Fieri’s book are described but not pictured – and in fact the decisions on Alexis Seabrook’s contribution seem rather quirky. In the “Trailblazers” section, in one example among many, “Five Knots and How to Use Them” shows the knots but does not illustrate the steps needed to tie them – and the verbal instructions are really not enough. Fieri’s other sections focus on Athletes, Artists, Builders, and Chefs; and in each of them, the included elements are highly personal ones, based on the author’s particular interests. “Builders” does include some generally useful information on sanding, painting and hammering nails, and this is where there is one page on building a fort, “indoors and out,” but “Chefs” contains only a few recipes and focuses on vegetable gardening, herbs, the history of the metric system, and “The Perfect Provisions for Adventures.” Certainly The Girl’s Guide to Building a Fort is well-intentioned and contains some useful and even intriguing information and projects (among which are “DIY Botanical Bookmarks” and “Five Poems to Recite Outside” in the “Artists” section). But the mishmash of included material and the uncertain value of the illustrations make this a (+++) book that will be fun for girls and families that happen to resonate to Fieri’s tastes, but that will fall flat for anyone with even slightly different interests – including anyone who wants, perhaps, more than one page out of 224 on building a fort.

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