December 22, 2022


Uni the Unicorn: Reindeer Helper. By Christy Webster. Illustrations by Alejandro Mesa and Chiara Fiorentino. Random House. $10.99.

Uni the Unicorn: The Haunted Pumpkin Patch. By Christy Webster. Illustrations by Sue DiCicco. Random House. $6.99.

Uni the Unicorn: How to Say Thank You. By Christy Webster. Illustrations by Sue DiCicco. Random House. $6.99.

     Unless you are a thoughtfully self-protective creative artist such as Charles Schulz, who made it quite clear that Peanuts was not to be continued by anyone else after his death, any characters and settings you create during your lifetime – if they become sufficiently popular – will likely outlive you, perhaps to a significant degree. So the Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown (1926-2003), to cite one recent example, has continued for decades under the title Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures, with books by various writers. By the same token, the Uni the Unicorn series that is now being created for prereaders and the youngest readers (ages 3-7) is derived from Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krause Rosenthal (1965-2017), with series illustrations based on the work of Brigette Barrager. The new books in the continuing series are a little on the too-simplistic side – fine for ages three or four but maybe not for much older children, and certainly not for more-advanced readers of any age. But they do have many simple charms, and the trustees of the Amy Krouse Rosenthal Revocable Trust – which supervises the ongoing use of the material – have found (or at least approved) ways to give Uni stories specific contexts instead of just having everything be about a unicorn and a friendly but unnamed little girl.

     One focus of the new Uni books, for example, is holidays; hence, for Christmastime, Reindeer Helper, a new hardcover in which, on Christmas Eve, Uni encounters a little lost reindeer that has become separated from Santa and cannot catch up to the magical sleigh in time to help deliver all the gifts. Uni and the reindeer use their magic to catch up to Santa – almost – and then notice that the sleigh is unbalanced and some gifts are falling out. So instead of merely catching up, Uni and the reindeer magically, rapidly gather the dropped presents and deliver them all over the place and then catch the sleigh, after which Santa thanks Uni and has the unicorn deliver one last gift – to the little girl who is Uni’s best human friend.

     Two other new Uni holiday books are paperbacks that contain more than the stories themselves. The Haunted Pumpkin Patch is a Halloween-focused book in which Uni, while trying to grow pumpkins, discovers nibbled blossoms, a broken fence, and a squished squash. Uni’s friends are convinced that something scary is going on, and they join Uni in an all-night vigil to figure things out. Kids, even the very youngest, will of course know that there is nothing the slightest bit scary happening – not in Uni’s world. But Uni’s friends all become frightened while staying in the garden overnight, leaving Uni to sneak up on whatever creature is playing havoc with the pumpkins. This turns out to be a hungry, adorable little bunny – and Uni quickly makes a deal to give the bunny a whole pumpkin in return for the rest of the pumpkin patch being left alone. To complement this sweet little story (all these Uni stories are sweet and little), there are two pages of pleasantly designed stickers bound into the front and back covers of the book – more than 30 stickers in all – including some of Uni, some of the other unicorns, some of the bunny, some of pumpkins, and some of stars and flowers.

     How to Say Thank You includes something different: two thank-you cards, bound into the front and back of the book and perforated for easy removal, with instructions to “draw a picture or write a note to tell someone you love why you are thankful for them!” The holiday tie-in here is Thanksgiving: that is not strongly emphasized in the story, but there is one double-page illustration featuring a turkey, cornucopia and other typical Thanksgiving-related elements to make the connection clear. The idea is that Uni wants to thank a friend, Silky, for figuring out that a dry-looking apple tree simply needs water – which the two unicorns then supply through magical rain creation. Somehow, Uni not only is unfamiliar with dried-out soil but also does not know how to say thanks, and therefore consults the little girl for instructions. The girl suggests a card and/or a big hug and/or finding a way “to share and celebrate together!” So Uni and the little girl get together to implement all the girl’s suggestions – after which Uni knows to thank the girl herself for her help. All these Uni books are rather cloying and really suitable only for very young kids, who may believe that Uni does not know how to say “thank you” (a notion more far-fetched than unicorns themselves). Although the books seem to be mildly teachable, especially How to Say Thank You, they are really best seen (and best read) as slight, simple, sweet adventures with a very small tinge of the exotic – not exactly what Amy Krouse Rosenthal had in mind, but close enough so that these follow-up books may make some kids curious enough to want to read the original Uni the Unicorn.

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