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Capsule Reviews, October 2014

Better late than never, I guess… (and you may note a subtle theme in the last half of this.)

Amye Rosenberg, Lily Pig’s Book of Colors (Golden Press, 1987)

Lily Pig rejoices over her birthday cake on the cover.

I should mention that since I wrote this review almost eight months ago, the Bean’s enthusiasm has not flagged one bit.
photo credit: childrensclassics.com.au

The Bean has been lagging behind with colors as he sprints ahead with letters and counting, but that doesn’t stop him from being enchanted with this book. Daddy isn’t, as much, because Lily Pig is drawn, well, downright creepy. I kicked this one up half a star because the Bean asks for it on a fairly regular basis, but this is one I wouldn’t mind seeing get lost behind the bookshelf. ** ½

* * *

Anonymous, Some Ducks Have All the Luck (Golden Press, 1987)

Donald and Daisy are excited over a present on the book cover.

Some ducks get all the pain. Some ducks get all the breaks. Some ducks do nothin’ but complain.
photo credit: disney.wikia.com

Of the six new-to-us Golden Books that hit the doorstep last week, the clear loser is Some Ducks Have All the Luck, which the Bean hasn’t even asked for a second time in the interim. It is exceptionally wordy for a Golden Book, especially one that was first printed as recently as 1987; I can’t put the Bean’s wandering attention completely down to his age, since he is quite capable of sitting attentively through older Golden books where wordiness was the rule (some of those form the late forties and fifties especially). This feels like an odd attempt to shoehorn a more adult story into a pre-lit book—the plotline concerns Daffy Duck and his main rival coming up with presents to court Daisy, and to the writer’s credit or blame, I can’t quite figure out which, he didn’t really dumb that plotline down any; it feels more like a badly-written attempt at a Chaplin film than a Disney cartoon. Which might not be a bad thing, done well, but it isn’t here. * ½

* * *

Polly Curren, The Fire Fighters’ Counting Book (Golden Press, 1983)

The firefighters pose around a truck on the cover.

This is another that six or seven months later is still a bedtime favorite.
photo credit: childrensclassics.com.au

Six new-to-the-household Golden Books arrived all at once the other day, and for the first time, the Bean had me read all the new ones to him at once during storytime. Of the six, The Fire Fighters’ Counting Book was the clear winner from Bean’s perspective (come the second night we had them, it was the first book he asked for), and I thought it was pretty good, too. The first time through can be a bit jarring, since the counting portion gives way to something that has a passing resemblance to a plot, but by the second or third time you’ve read it the rhythm will make itself clear and it should be smooth sailing. ***

* * *

Andrew Gutelle, Batter Up! (Golden Press, 1991)

Awaiting a pitch on the cover of the book.

Swing,battabattabattabattabattabatta
photo credit: Pinterest

Of the six new-to-us Golden Books that cropped up last week (this, The Fire Fighters’ Counting Book, The Big Elephant, Bugs Bunny Marooned!, Some Ducks Have All the Luck, and Tickety-Tock, What Time Is It?), this one is kind of tied for second. Maybe third, because Bean passed it up originally on the second night, but after we had finished reading Tickety-Tock, he asked for this one. Simple story about two friends who join their local softball league. It seemed to me once or twice that the author had the emphasis on the wrong pieces of the storyline (specifically, there is not nearly enough about Alex’s friend, who feels like a minor character for most of the book but ends up playing a major role), but it’s an easy read for more advanced pre-litters in your house, and the story is engaging enough to keep the interest of the adult reader. Not a bad one. ***

* * *

Justine Korman, Bugs Bunny Marooned! (Golden Press, 1985)

Bugs Bunny lounges on the beach eating a carrot while the evil professor lurks in the bushes on the cover of the book.

What a maroon!
photo credit: childrensclassics.com.au

Justine Korman is not new to Goat Central; her Working Hard with the Mighty Loader from 1993 is a staple at storytime. This one, on the other hand, is probably not going to reach that level. It feels like (and may in fact be an early example of) the cartoon-turned-into-storybook crossover that, in my experience, has failed to produce a decent book yet; the text here definitely feels like “let’s explain the pictures and fill in some blanks”, as if there were a full-length cartoon and Korman were trying to figure out how to abridge it for a twenty-four-page Golden book. (I should note that if this is the case, I’ve never seen the cartoon in question, but I’m far from an expert on Bugs and co.) If not, then it just feels like a quickly-processed cash grab to capitalize on Golden having a Looney Tunes license. The best thing I can say about it is that it is…not awful. **

* * *

Julie Durrell, Tickety-Tock, What Time Is It? (Golden Press, 1990)

The narrator reads a book on the cover.

Our hero seems supremely unworried about time in general.
photo credit: pinterest

The bean had good fun with this one. I was a little more reserved, in that I was having a hard time imagining a child of the age of our protagonist (he is in school, so not less than four, but not more than six based on the action) managing to keep still in a shoe store or a department store for an hour at a time. Of course, that could be just me remembering me (to this day I will not set foot in a department store unless absolutely necessary). But as far as being a good tool to teach the way time progresses, and the increasingly-irrelevant analog clock face, this is as good a book as any we have encountered so far. ***

* * *

Bonnie Worth, I Can Go Potty (Golden Press, 1997)

Kermit holds a roll of toilet paper on the cover.

Hi ho, this is Kermit the Frog, peer.
photo credit: Amazon

Obviously meant as a male-themed companion piece to 1991’s Bye,Bye, Diapers!, which features Miss Piggy. This one has Kermit going through much the same routine. The difference between the two books lies in the song each sings; that in the former book works better than this one, both in rhythm and word choice. But for a muppet-baby-loving kid who’s probably not going to know the difference, both will be decent additions to story time during the potty training months; take a look at the library before making a final decision. **

* * *

Martine Agassi, Hands Are Not for Hitting (Free Spirit Publishing, 2002)

A kid makes glasses with his fingers on the cover.

They’re really not for lorgnettes, either.
photo credit: freespirit.com

Basic, easy-to-understand book aimed at teaching the pre-lit set not to hit. I’m not entirely sold on the direct approach—I think younger children are probably going to be more absorbed by books that couch the moral in a story than giving the moreal directly (e.g. Bernette Ford’s No More Biting for Billy Goat!, as opposed to Verdick’s Teeth Are Not for Biting, another book in this series, both reviewed below), but the book is short enough that the Bean’s attention didn’t wander while we were reading it, and the message is important enough that it’s worth using books that adopt both approaches and seeing which one sticks better for your own child. ***

* * *

Elizabeth Verdick, Teeth Are Not for Biting (Free Spirit Publishing, 2003)

A girl shows off her pearlies on the cover.

Judging by the Bean, this cover is accurate–they’re for showing off.
photo credit: betterworldbooks.com

Another book in the direct-approach series from Free Spirit (viz. Agassi’s Hands Are Not for Hitting reviewed above). Not much different to say about this one; if the approach works for your child there is obvious value here, and if you’re not sure it’s short and easy enough that it’s still worth checking out. Bright, cheerful illustrations willkeep the kiddies’ attention while you are (hopefully) imparting the moral. ***

* * *

Bernette Ford, No More Biting for Billy Goat! (Boxer Books, 2013)

Billy Goat looks nervous on the book cover.

“But… how will he eat bacon?”
“He won’t, dear. That would be cannibalism.”
photo credit: pinterest

I really like the idea of couching morals like this in a story rather than just giving them directly, a la the Free Spirit Publishing books reviewed above. In the case of No More Biting for Billy Goat!, though, I wish it had been executed better. Ford has the right idea—giving us a story and establishing characters—but when it gets down to time to work in the moral, she does so by pausing the story and using language that may be a touch on the advanced side for the pre-lit set while still feeling overly simplistic for the adult doing the reading. On the right track, but not quite there yet. ** ½

* * *

Mercer Mayer, Just Go to Bed (Golden Press, 1983)

Little Critter stimps up stairs on the cover.

“He looks like a [blue] nightmare!”
photo credit: scholasticbookclubs.wordpress.com

Is there anything tougher than getting toddlers to go to bed? Mayer addresses the topic in one of his innumerable Little Critter books, and of the ones we’ve read it’s my favorite. Pretty good mojo with the Bean, too. Dad is trying to get Critter through the various steps involved in the process, which involves a lot of cleverness and more than a little negotiation. Everything turns out all right in the end, of course, though anyone who actually has one of these knows it starts all over again the next night… still, a good entry in the series and a popular one at Goat Central’s storytime. *** ½

* * *

Gina and Mercer Mayer, Just a Toy (Golden Press, 2000)

Little Critter tries to choose a toy from all the possibilities on the cover.

Decisions, decisions.
photo credit: Pinterest

Dad takes Little Critter and his sister to the toy store. Little Sister knows exactly what she wants and goes after it; Little Critter can’t make up his mind (and when he does, it has disastrous consequences). Another Little Critter book that deals with frustration and anger, and I have yet to decide if the ones that treat this more realistically than as a problem-solving exercise are better or worse than the problem-solving books (most of which come with too-easy solutions in the final pages). Likable enough, though I wouldn’t call it anything special; if your kid is already a Little Critter fan go for it, otherwise give it a run-through at the library. ** ½

* * *

Mercer Mayer, I Was So Mad (Golden Press, 1983)

Little Critter and his mouse friend want to keep frogs in the bathtub on the book cover.

So many frogs, so little time.
photo credit: betterworldbooks.com

It’s been some months since we first introduced this one, and back then, before the Bean turned two, he was having none of it. Something has changed, though, as as he progresses through the twos, Little Critter is suddenly A Thing(TM) at storytime, so every time we break out one of the Little Critter books, we end up reading all of them that we own back to back. I Was So Mad is not the best of the lot, but it certainly isn’t the worst; it may be the most basic of the Little Critter books we own, though. LC goes through a list of stuff he wants to do that various family members won’t let him. They suggest alternative stuff for him to do, but he doesn’t want to (because, of course, he’s too mad). Pretty good way of defusing the situation at the end, though. There are others I like reading multipl times a lot better, but this one isn’t too bad. ** ½

* * *

Mercer Mayer, When I Get Bigger (Golden Press, 1983)

Critter stands in a suit and tie on a train platform  on the cover.

Fantasy life starts out small.
photo credit: betterworldbooks.com

When I Get Bigger is another of the Little Critter books that’s been getting pulled out with increasing frequency since the Bean turned two. It’s charming, in that as usual Mayer has a good handle on the pre-lit mind, and LC’s dreams for what he will be able to do when he’s older are a mix of responsible-adult stuff (“I’ll look both ways, then I’ll cross the street”) and things that most adults have forgotten seemed exotic when they were kids (“I’ll order something from a catalog and it will come in the mail.”) If there’s a problem with it, it’s that it is not aging terribly well; there are some things in the book that kids of this upcoming generation already might not recognize. But hey, that gives you an opportunity to talk about how things were when you were a kid. ***

* * *

Mercer and Gina Mayer, This Is My Body (Golden Press, 1993)

Little Critter flexes in front of the mirror on the cover.

Do this in remembrance of me.
photo credit: Pinterest

We have now gotten to the point where we’ve read enough Little Critter books that I can generalize that I’m not as fond of the ones Gina co-wrote as I am of Mercer’s solo outings. This Is My Body is probably the best of those we’ve read, but it’s still a cut below most of the solo books. Critter talks up some of the parts of his body, mostly facial features, plus arms and legs, and relates them to the family. There’s some amusement value to be had in Critter’s antics, as usual, but by the time a child is ready for the Critter books, you’ve probably covered this ground in any number of other books aimed at slightly younger readers. ** ½

* * *

Mercer and Gina Mayer, Just Say Please (Golden Press, 1993)

Little Critter raches for a cookie, but his mom says no, on the cover.

Let me, let me, let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time.
photo credit: nanasbooksforchildren.com

This is an odd little book. The story part of the story doesn’t start until halfway through the book, with the first half being more of a list of politeness rules (once the story gets going, you see Critter trying to adhere to them). While the Bean enjoyed the second half of the book, he was not at all thrilled with the first half, and neither was daddy; not sure how much time we’ll be spending with this one even though the Bean is turning into something of a Little Critter fanatic. **

* * *

Mercer Mayer, Just a Mess (Golden Press, 1987)

Little Critter stands in his messy room on the book's cover.

Monsters don’t clean their rooms, either.
photo credit: childrensbooksguide.com

Like many kids, Critter will go to any lengths to avoid cleaning his room. When his mother finally puts her foot down after Critter goes to her complaining that he can’t find his baseball mitt, he finds inventive, if not too effective, ways to hide the stuff and make it look like he cleaned up. Some parents will take offense to the book’s conclusion (spoiler alert: he gets what he wants without actually doing any cleaning), but it felt more like a punchline than a moral judgment to me, so I took it for what I figured it was and ran with it. Enjoyable. ***

* * *

Mercer Mayer, Just My Friend and Me (Golden Press, 1988)

Critter and his bear friend hug on the cover of the book.

Rollin’ in our six-fo’.
photo credit: childrensbooksguide.com

This entry in the seemingly-neverending Little Critter series tackles some tough issues in a way that makes me want to see what Mayer would do with this material given the space for a young adult novel. Critter has a friend over to play, and the friend turns out to be not terribly friendlike (though whether the kid is malicious or just a complete solipsist is left up to the reader’s interpretation, and ends up being a very interesting question to wrestle with once the kiddies are old enough to think to ask it). Critter, as is his wont, tries to overlook the other child’s faults or make the best of bad situations until he finally can’t take anymore. I usually class the Critter books as either comedy or fantasy in the database, but this one is drama all the way. A real surprise here, and one of the best of the Little Critter books we’ve read so far. *** ½

* * *

Mercer Mayer, Baby Sister Says No (Golden Press, 1987)

Little Sister cries as Little Critter stares at her in exasperation on the cover of the book.

Ah, she just wants attention.
photo credit: paperbackswap.com

Kind of amusing that we read this one just after Just My Friend and Me, as Critter—this time with a friend who’s actually a friend—has formed an alliance against the tyranny of his little sister, who’s going through the “no” phase and continually disrupts their attempts at playtime. This one is obviously geared towards kids with younger siblings, but all Little Critter fans will get a kick out of the situations and humor. ***

* * *

Mercer Mayer, Just Me and My Little Brother (Golden Press, 1991)

Little Critter and his nonexistent little brother get ready for some baseball on the book cover.

Little Critter’s rich fantasy life takes over again.
photo credit: childrensbooksguide.com

My favorite of the Little Critter books are the ones with the fantasy aspect, where Critter is imagining what life will be like after some milestone is hit. Just Me and My Little Brother is one of them, with Critter daydreaming about all the fun things he and his little brother will be able to do once little brother is big enough to do any of them. It’s gentler than most of the Little Critter books, calmer, and (for me, anyway) more fun to read. Bean seems pretty fond of it, as well. *** ½

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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