Hippo Manchester
September 29, 2005

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Fun books for kids

Edgy, fun and no talking down to the readers

By Lisa Parsons

While Mama had a Quick Little Chat, by Amy Reichert, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2005 (picture book, ages 3-6).

What do you expect when you tell your kid “One more minute, I’m almost through,” but then you stay on the phone for 20 minutes? Like The Cat in the Hat (but shorter), this amusing picture book shows how little parents know about what their kids might do — or who might come for a visit — when no one’s watching. Also like The Cat in the Hat, it’s set in a big old-fashioned house with huge chandeliers, a sweeping staircase and a phone with a real cord. Sweet and funny — especially for guilty-as-charged parents.

Do Princesses Really Kiss Frogs? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, illustrated by Mike Gordon, Rising Moon Books, 2005 (picture book, ages 3-6).

They might. They also wear hiking boots, as determined in Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? from 2003 by the same duo. That first book showed that even princess can get dirty and do ordinary things, including follow rules. Therefore, conversely, even girls who play in the mud and snort when they laugh may consider themselves princesses. Kiss Frogs somewhat inverts the question, showing that princesses don’t have to do all the princessy things, like kiss frogs, and they do do many nice ordinary things, like smell flowers and meet imaginary dragons and have noses like roses and get rides on daddy’s shoulders. The borderless edge-to-edge artwork is enticing; our princess is a warmly drawn and entirely contemporary girl, the green grasses and blue skies perfect for a lingering taste of summer.

When Charlie McButton Lost Power, by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by Mike Lester, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005 (picture book, ages 3-6).

This one stands out for two reasons: it’s about small kids’ relationships to modern technology (rather than to their teddy bears, siblings, blankies or potty seats) and it stars a boy (rather than a girl or a cartoon duck, cow, pig or penguin, which seem more common). Charlie McButton is dumbstruck when a thunderstorm kills his TV,  lights, clock and games. Desperate, he steals batteries from his sister’s doll and winds up in the time-out chair. The story is written in the same rhyming meter as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and one of its verses (about batteries) – “They powered her puppies, they powered her clocks / They powered her talkative alphabet blocks” – beat for beat reflects one of the last verses of that story. The two tales’ sentiments are similar, as well. So will Charlie McButton, a true child of the 21st century, learn to have fun unplugged? What do you think?

Judy Moody Declares Independence, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, 2005, Candlewick Press, 144 pages (chapter book, ages 5-10).

I’m 38 years old and reading this book made me want to read the rest of the series. Judy Moody (a.k.a. Judy Moodington) is a feisty third-grader who, in this installment, visits Boston and returns home (to Virginia) inspired, by Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Partiers, to seek her own independence in the form of a later bedtime and looser rules. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility. The story is bright and funny and the occasional artwork adds a nice comic boost. The book has 11 chapters and could be read by an adult aloud for storytime or by a just-stretching-her-wings young reader. (If you read it at normal adult pace, it’ll seem boring, but if you read it at the pace a budding reader would adopt, you’ll find it’s a fascinating world in there.)

Stink: the Incredible Shrinking Kid, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, 2005, Candlewick Press, 102 pages (chapter book, ages 5-10).

Judy Moody (see above) has a kid brother nicknamed Stink, who herein gets his very own book for the first time. Stink is short; Stink wants to grow; Stink celebrates Presidents’ Day with a report on James Madison, the nation’s shortest president. Stink also takes home the class newt and there is a dicey incident (pun not even intended) with a garbage disposal. Stink is as happy and engaging as its Judy Moody forebears and — bonus! — offers needed literary fare to young male readers who for whatever reason don’t feel like identifying with a girl protagonist.