(4 of 5)
Colorful, splashy illustrations are great, of course, but give this book credit for trusting children to appreciate exquisitely detailed pen-and-ink drawings as well. And for treating kids, in typography and design, to a truly elegant piece of bookmaking. The fable-like story is a prickly dialogue between a duck and an owl, who, although they see virtues in each other, can't quite become friends because each fails to understand why the other does things in such an odd way. The duck likes to glide back and forth in the water; the owl prefers sitting high up in a birch tree. The duck eats weeds from the bottom of the pond; the owl hunts small animals in the woods. The duck sleeps at night, the owl during the day. Eventually both realize, as the owl puts it, "I don't do things the wrong way, I do them a different way, and it works out fine." There is a moral here about tolerance and understanding, but it is all the more eloquent for remaining unspoken.
David R. Godine; $17.95
LEONARDO, THE TERRIBLE MONSTER By Mo Willems
Tony has more teeth. Eleanor is bigger. Hector is weirder. As monsters go, Leonardo is simply terrible: he can't scare anyone. And no wonder. In Willems' witty, angular renderings, he is an adorable little terror. But he has a plan--to find "the most scaredy-cat kid in the whole world and scare the tuna salad out of him!" That leads him to Sam. After Leonardo performs a full repertoire of growls, glares and gesticulations, Sam bawls. Not because of Leonardo, alas, but because of a monumental toddler's hard-luck saga that he tells the monster: "... and I got so mad I kicked the table and I stubbed my toe on the same foot that I hurt last month when I accidentally slipped in the bathtub after I got soap in my eyes trying to wash out the bird poo that my brother's cockatoo ..." This is Leonardo's defining moment. He decides to switch to something he can be good at: being a friend. Willems, who wrote for Sesame Street, works in a large format and makes striking use of blank space. But there is nothing empty about his sentiments.
Just One More From an Old Friend
Playwright, singer, songwriter, cartoonist, Shel Silverstein was a jack-of-all-trades and the master of one--and the one was writing children's books. His freewheeling, provocative stories (The Giving Tree) and books of poetry (Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic), illustrated with his quirky line drawings, have sold more than 25 million copies. Thus a new Silverstein title is a signal event, especially if it comes six years after his death.
Runny Babbit was among Silverstein's papers when he died at 68. He had been working on it for more than 20 years. His son Matthew and other family members finally agreed to its publication this year. The book is another collection of poems, but with a difference. All of them, like the title, are built on spoonerisms, or pairs of words in which the first letters are transposed. Example: "Runny had to bake a tath/ Before they'd sive him gupper./ He got so tungry in the hub,/ He ate the rat of mubber."