Kids Books: Good, Better, Best

As a recovering bookstore junkie, I greatly appreciate both the selection and reserve system at my local library. A recent trip turned up interesting results. Drake enjoyed all three books, but I did not. I think the true mark of a book’s success is if I like to read it, and Drake’s likes to hear it, and we both like to look at it. Since he often insists on hearing books dozens of times, books weak in story or art get very annoying, very fast. Borrowing from the library, rather than buying, allows us the luxury of test driving these books at home, to see which books we both enjoy.

Good: Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes Some Henkes books are particular favorites: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Sheila Rae the Brave, and Chester’s Way. Some I have actively disliked (Julius, Baby of the World, and A Weekend with Wendell). Others I found only OK (Chrysanthemum and Wemberley Worried). Bailey Goes Camping falls into this last category. The blurbs on the back call it “cozy” and “comfortable”. I found it boring. Bailey’s older brother and sister go camping. He wants to go but is too young, so his mom helps him do camping things at home. The story is simple, the art is deliberately old-fashioned, but I found neither particularly memorable.

Better: Too Big by Claire Masurel, art by Hanako Wakiyama. I’d liked the art from The Best Pet of All (see following) so I decided to give this a try. Charlie is small and brings home a big toy named Tex. No one wants him to take Tex anywhere because of his size, but when Charlie has to go to the doctor, Tex is loyal and ready. I had a few problems with this book. First, I think Tex’s size is supposed to be a contrast with Charlie’s smallness, typical of a kid, but that’s a subtle inference for a child. Second, when Charlie needs to go to the doctor, all his regularly sized toy friends hide. The illustration for this was good, since a child can find them, but why they hide is unclear. Are they afraid of the doctor, and the author didn’t want to make this explicit? Is it so that Charlie finally takes Tex? Without explanation, it seems cruel and arbitrary that his friends hide from him. Finally, while I liked the retro look of the art, the dad had red hair (like Charlie) on several pages, but black hair on another. I found this lack of continuity confusing. Drake, though, liked the book just fine.

Best: The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle, art by Hanako Wakiyama. We have checked this book out before, and I was reminded that it is a great blend of story and art. A little boy wants a dog; his mother says no. The boy counters that he’d like a dragon. The mom OKs that, little expecting the boy to bring home a dragon. Both are understandably upset with the dragon’s bad manners. The end is charming and funny, and turns on understanding something from the illustration, not just the text. While my husband jokes that he finds the mom “uncomfortably hot” for a storybook, the art is retro yet kid-accessible. While all three books had very good reviews at Amazon, this is the one book of the three that I liked as well as Drake did, and it’s the one book that I will consider adding to our permanent library, though I also like the idea of having old favorites at our public library that we check out and re-read.

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