Saturday, February 01, 2003
Books by Stephanie Zvirin
Some books demand to be read again and again
Read it again! Read it again! This is a familiar refrain, particularly at bedtime. Why do some books demand repeated readings while others satisfy with just one? Of course, nobody knows for sure, but the books below have a special something-a zesty rhyme, exceptional illustrations or a particularly well-told story-that makes each a good candidate for reading aloud, again and again and again.
DEAR MRS. LARUE: LETTERS FROM OBEDIENCE SCHOOL, by Mark Teague, Scholastic, $15.95; ages 6-8. Citing a long list of behavior problems, Snort City resident Gertrude R. LaRue yesterday enrolled her dog, Ike, in the Igo Bratweiler Canine Academy. And boy does he hate it. In rueful letters to his mistress, Ike begs to be sprung from his prison (which actually looks more like a canine country club than a doggy dungeon), reconsidering all the less-than-stellar behavior ("Were you really so upset about the chicken pie?") that landed him in the clink in the first place. Pictures in shades of gray revisit Ike's transgressions; color art captures him busily composing his dramatic missives. When he finally manages a kooky escape and worms his way back into Mrs. LaRue's good graces, everybody, especially Ike, breathes a sigh of relief.
WHAT JAMES LIKES BEST, by Amy Schwartz, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.95; ages 3-6. The author of "A Teeny Tiny Baby" (1994) proves once again that she knows just how young children experience the world. In four short picture-stories, James and his parents go visiting-to see twin babies, to visit James' friend Angela, to Grandma's, to the county fair. During each visit, James sees and learns something new, and after each story children are asked to speculate about what he liked best: Was it the twin high chairs or the doughnut hole he ate? Was it riding in a taxi, Angela's toy fruit, eating cheese with a little fork or his auntie's orange hair? The fun of guessing will draw children right into James' story, while reminding us grownups how even the most mundane experience enriches a child's world. Schwartz's uncomplicated artwork, comforting and simple, yet bright with jellybean hues, reflects the same innocent surprise. Children will see themselves in James and feel the warmth of his loving family.
HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON?, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague, Scholastic, $15.95; ages 5-8. Being sick is no fun for kids, and dinosaurs don't like it either-even when their human parents bring them chicken soup and juice and read them stories. "And what if a dinosaur goes to the doc? / Does he drag all his feet / till his mom is in shock?" With some comical twists of phrase, Yolen puts the sniffles in perspective, with Teague packing on the laughs in large, raucous pictures. As in Yolen's "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?" (2001), lumpy, bumpy multi-colored dinosaur kids dominate each scene and drive their grownup caretakers to distraction. To satisfy children who pride themselves on dino facts, each critter's scientific name is tucked somewhere in the beastie's homey backdrop. A sure bet for days when kids are at home with sneezles and wheezles, but fun anytime.
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S TEETH, by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora, illustrated by Brock Cole, Farrar, $16; ages 6-9. Second only to kids' curiosity about Washington and the cherry tree may be their interest in his teeth. His wooden dentures are a legend to be reckoned with. In smooth, sprightly rhyme, the authors tell the real story of GW's dental woes, unfurling it against a background of his patriotic career as soldier and president. "Poor George has two teeth in his mouth / The day the votes came in. / The people had a President / But one afraid to grin." Illustrator Cole's small, tableau-like pictures overflow with action and costumed characters busily engaged in helping poor George. An annotated time line at the back of the book gives kids a clearer view of the prez's historically documented dental woes. It's fun and fact in a bright, successful package.
BIG MOMMA MAKES THE WORLD, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, Candlewick, $16.99; ages 4-7. Root's joyous version of the creation myth features a big, bossy Earth Mother, with her baby on her hip. "When Big Momma made the world, / she didn't mess around." She saw what needed to be done all right . . . so she rolled up her sleeves and went to it. "She made light and then dark, and the moon and the Earth; then she made animals because it's awful quiet down there on earth. Lastly, she made folks everywhere, enjoying their company a bit before returning to bake cookies in the clouds." There's an infectious cadence to Root's telling that gives the story an immediate, homespun charm. Oxenbury's artwork is fun and affectionate: sturdy Big Momma radiates determination; her pudgy, naked babe is like curious babies everywhere. When Momma peers down on all she's created, she's quite pleased.
Stephanie Zvirin is Books for Youth Editor at Booklist magazine, the review journal of the American Library Association. She lives in Glen Ellyn with her family.