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Children's Book Reviews



Kate Marley

Animal stories have been a favorite with kids for years. It's fascinating to learn about strange, exotic creatures that sometimes seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but live right here on earth. And even the ordinary can still surprise us. But also, animal stories have been a way since the beginning of time for people to tell stories and lessons - either as an example of positive traits that others would do well to copy, or as cautionary tales meant to mirror and warn of human foibles. Aesop is only the most famous to use this device; besides, many readers find it easier to swallow a lesson in behavior when the protagonists are animals. Such anthropomorphism gives writers great scope, and readers seldom tire of this theme. Last but not least, interaction with animals is a way for humans to find out about themselves. I've included some new and interesting books of each kind.

See the Yak Yak by Charles Ghingna. c 1999, Random House.
This is a really fun book about homonyms, helped tremendously by the amusing illustrations by Brian Lies. Kids - the human kind- will enjoy watching the bare bear, the slug slug a bug who's bugging him and many more fun examples of animal associated expressions in English.

Gowanus Dogs by Jonathan Frost. c 1999, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Here is a touching story about a family of wild dogs and a homeless man who all live by the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. When one of the puppies becomes sick, the homeless man tries to save her - an attempt that will change his life as well. Fluid and expressive black and white drawings by the author seem to bring the gritty reality of the canal in focus.

Monkey Bridge by Rafe Martin. c 1997, Knopf.
Adapted from an ancient Buddhist jataka tale from India, this famous parable of a monkey king and human king shows how bravery, duty and compassion can be demonstrated and passed on to others. Beautiful watercolor and gauche illustrations by Fahimeh Amiri compliment the story.

Boomer's Big Surprise by Constance W. McGeorge. c 1999, Chronicle Books.
Boomer has been the top dog...the only dog...for a long time, so the arrival of a new puppy is a bit disconcerting. He can't understand why everyone is paying so much attention to the puppy and not him, and just when he's beginning to despair, he gets the attention he wants from an unlikely source. Amusing, lifelike watercolors by Mary Whyte cleverly capture Boomer's many moods.


Little Bo by Julie Andrews Edwards. c 1999, Hyperion.
Bonnie Boadicia may have been the runt of her litter, but she certainly has heart. This comes in handy when the kittens are betrayed by a human butler and forced to scatter and fend for themselves on a snowy day. Befriended by a young sailor, Bo begins a new and exciting life. It's a nice story that's sure to be a hit with cat lovers, and the adorable color illustrations are by Henry Cole are beautiful.

Coyote by Stephen R. Swinburne. c 1999, Boyds Mills Press.
Filled with great photographs by the author and other photographers, this is an excellent factual book about America's own wild dog. It's also an example of how informative children's books can be - did you know that coyotes are living in the Bronx? Being the highly adaptive animals they are, coupled with the human destruction of their worst predators (wolves), coyotes have expanded their original range to include just about the entire North American continent.

Sea Feather by Lois Szymanski. c 1999, Avon.
Many children, particularly girls, dream of owning their own horse, and the annual pony swim from Chincoteague, Maryland has been the basis of many stories - Misty of Chincoteague being the most famous. Here's another, about two sisters who pool their money; the eldest sister worked all kinds of boring chores for a year to earn money. But once they arrive, they discover that the ponies are selling for much more than what they have. How they cope with this disappointment, and find a happy ending after all, will delight horse lovers. Realistic black and white illustrations are by Laurie Hardin.


Swimming with Sharks by Twig C. George. c 1999, HarperCollins.
Sent to her grandparents in Florida for her entire summer vacation, Sarah is sure that she'll hate it. No friends, no choice and no TV...she just knows that it will be boring. And it is...until the day she spots a wounded baby shark off her grandparents' pier, and begins to wonder about it. Now since her grandfather is a retired marine biologist, one thing naturally leads to another, and Sarah finds out lots of surprising things about these feared predators. Black and white charcoal drawings by Yong Chen also make a nice compliment to this engaging story of a ten year olds discovery of marine life.

White Wolf by Henrietta Branford. First US edition, c 1999, Candlewick Press.
Told from the young wolf's point of view, readers follow him through his early days of captivity while a pup, and through his narrow escape as a ritual sacrifice back into the natural wilderness. With a fascinating combination of lyrical language and bleak realism, the story details how he re-learns the ways of wild wolves; hunting, fitting in with the pack, evading dangers including the most dangerous predator of all...humans.

Bunnicula Strikes Again! by James Howe. c 1999, Atheneum.
The vegetable sucking bunny is back in an new adventure, and just like the others, we see this from Harold's point of view. It's also full of Harold's usual sharp observations on human and pet behavior. Great fun reading, with oddball characters, improbable plot, crazy schemes and diverting illustrations by Alan Daniel.

Hive for the Honeybee by Soinbhe Lally. First American edition, c 1999, Scholastic.
An interesting combination of realism (their short lifespan, hard work, danger from other insects and animals) heavily overlaid with anthropomorphism made this book a thoroughly engrossing read. Sparkling imagery is coupled with colloquial dialogue and a realistic plot. Heavy issues such as sexism, religion and friendship are explored through the eyes of a worker bee named Thora and Albert, a drone. What is the meaning of life? What are the limits of friendship? And most importantly, who's in charge? As with humans, the bees have different answers to questions that have no right answers, just different points of view. I recommend this book not only for children and teens, but for adults as well.

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