Books — Witty Tomes For Tots


Witty Tomes For Tots

By Lisa Parsons

Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, story by Alison McGhee, pictures by Harry Bliss, Harcourt, Inc., 2004.

Message: Don’t let the big kids scare you; they’re bluffing.

A second-grade girl tells a first-grade girl that the first-grade teacher is an alien who steals baby teeth from her students and wears them as earrings.

So the first-grader, who has a loose tooth, determines to keep her mouth closed, which she manages to do for the whole first day of school. Lips zipped, she misses out on show and tell, singing, snacking, and befriending. Yet, after all this effort, at the end of the day she bursts out with a shriek of fear at the approaching teacher, and her loose tooth pops out—at which point she discovers the teacher is a sweet young woman with regular pearl earrings and very nice treats for tooth-losing girls.

The end.

It’s that straightforward. And tame. Cute, nice, wholesome, innocuous, appropriate for day or evening wear. Not exciting or novel; but, hey, every meal needs its baked potato. A little butter woulda been good, but….

Author Alison McGhee lives in Minneapolis. Illustrator Harry Bliss lives in Vermont, has illustrated other picture books (including Diary of a Worm) and has won awards for his cartoons in The New Yorker. You might recognize his style from covers of that magazine; each drawing (often with thought balloons or speech bubbles) tells a story.

Skyscraper, by Susan E. Goodman and Michael J. Doolittle, Knopf, 2004.

With sentences like “Architects are artists who sculpt the city,” this book will appeal mostly to those who already know a bit about the subject—like, say, what an architect is.

Full of factoids like “There’s enough concrete in this skyscraper to build over 84 miles of four-foot-wide sidewalks,” this book will appeal especially to the geeky and/or obsessed.

Packed with impressive photos nicely arranged, this book will get a grunt of appreciation from parents, who will flip through it but won’t read many of the words unless begged by a youngster.

The potential audience ranges from kids 4 or 5 years old who have a passion for construction to kids 10 or 11 years old who have a report due next week.

Slim but wordy; glossy and formal-ish; thorough and detailed—this book takes us from conception to completion of a skyscraper in about 30 pages. A nice touch: the interspersed quotes from workers commenting on their jobs.

Author Susan Goodman lives in Boston. Photographer Mike Doolittle lives in Connecticut. The building they have documented here is a new home to Random House publishing (of which Knopf is a part) in New York City.

Even More Parts, by Tedd Arnold, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2004.

Parts (1997) was funny. It bounced along in sing-song rhyme, the story of a five-year-old who thinks belly button lint is his stuffing coming out, who fears he’s falling apart as his nose leaks, his calloused skin peels and his tooth wiggles loose. He masking-tapes himself together and in the end learns all is well.

More Parts (2001) was funny. With the same bouncy rhyme, again our cartoon boy fears falling apart, but this time it’s because he hears confusing figures of speech—“give me a hand,” “broken heart,” “crack you up” and “screams her lungs out.” The boy glues his hands on and retreats to his room in terror until, like last time, his parents explain.

Even More Parts is pushing it. It opens with the now-familiar rhyme scheme: “Sometimes I wish my stupid ears weren’t always open wide. They hear such strange and crazy talk—I’m scared to go outside!” Unfortunately, the book then becomes not a story but a list of funny expressions and gag cartoons to go with each. “I lost my head,” accompanied by a cartoon of a headless boy (the head is hidden behind the easy chair, looking shocked). “I keep changing my mind,” with an anguished tot holding one brain in each hand. “I want all eyes on me,” and kids throw their eyeballs at the teacher, to whom they stick like Velcro balls on a Velcro dartboard. “My nose is running,” and it does, on tiny legs. As the book ends, Dad reminds Junior to “keep your head on straight” and junior heads to school wearing armor and tape and everything else he hopes will keep him from falling apart.

I miss the rhyme. I miss the story. I miss the belly-button lint and Junior’s frantic efforts to save himself. Even More Parts has no real story. It’s fine for discussing the vagaries of English, and might get some giggles from kids as you peruse the cartoons. But the first two—especially the first one, which was about things really happening to the kid’s body, not only about his misunderstandings—are better.

Tedd Arnold lives in Elmira, NY, and has written and illustrated a zillion pictures books. Actually, this is his 50th

- Lisa Parsons

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH