One Cute, One Creepy, One Curious

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


By Louise Yates

Knopf. $16.99. Ages 3-6

On the endpapers of this amiable ode to determination, an itinerant rabbit eyes a circus poster sporting the words "Jobs Available." Cut to the big top, where little rabbit, having chosen to ignore the fine print ("small animals need not apply"), finds himself surrounded by a bevy of large and fearsome creatures. Undaunted, he bravely extracts an umbrella, a pair of oversize shoes and a clown nose from his red polka-dot bag. "I am too small to wipe my own nose," he admits, whereupon the large green snake helps him burnish his round red proboscis. "I am too small to tie my own shoes," he acknowledges. The fez-wearing monkey's giant hands make delicate work of this task. "I am too small to walk far," he continues, wobbling along the high wire, but when the inevitable happens, the rhinoceros deftly catches both nose and umbrella while our diminutive hero hangs on for dear life. Still, there's one thing rabbit is just the right size for: disappearing -- inside the monkey's hat, inside the lion's mouth and inside the snake's . . . um . . . neck. But not to worry, he always happily -- and occasionally explosively -- reappears until his final trick leaves the other animals scratching their furry, knobby, scaly heads. The fun is in the contrast between the large animals' exaggerated mugging and the little bunny's blithe insouciance. It just goes to show that -- contemporary cliches about villages raising children aside -- it takes a lion, a giraffe, a bear, a gorilla, a rhinoceros and a "seriously savage" snake to raise a rabbit.

-- Kristi Jemtegaard


By Igor Siwanowicz

DK. $19.99. Age 8 and up

Staying away from the familiarly fluffy and cute, "Animals Up Close" features creatures that are little enough to hold in your hands but better examined through these strange and beautiful images. The burrowing owl might bite a finger off, a grass snake might release a terrible odor, and others, like the golden-headed lion tamarin, just need to have their shrinking habitats protected. Photographer Igor Siwanowicz brings out the details of each animal's exterior, and the accompanying text explains how these attributes are "nature's solutions" to living not large but small. Each spread spotlights a different animal, including water dwellers like the sea urchin, the axolotl and the stinging lionfish, alongside information about where and how each lives. The crested gecko on the cover, its moist red tongue flicking out at the reader, gets a typically informative treatment, covering everything from its rediscovery in 1994 to its remarkable eyelashlike growths and marbled eyes. Another striking spread shows the North African gecko from underneath, gripping a clear surface with its peculiar toes.

-- Abby McGanney Nolan


By Rebecca Stead

Wendy Lamb. $15.99. Ages 9-14

Sixth grade is full of mysteries for Miranda, a likable latchkey kid in late 1970s Manhattan. Why does the homeless "laughing man" suddenly haunt her gritty neighborhood? Why does her best friend, Sal, no longer speak to her? And who keeps sending the tiny, wrinkled notes that so eerily -- and accurately -- predict her future? Frantically, Miranda tries to piece together clues to prevent a tragedy, which may have already occurred.

No detail is small, no character minor, in this intricately plotted novel in which the nature of time emerges as the most compelling mystery of all. The story's structure -- an expert interweaving of past, present and future -- brilliantly contradicts Miranda's commonsensical belief that "the end can't happen before the middle!" Like "A Wrinkle in Time" (Miranda's favorite book), "When You Reach Me" far surpasses the usual whodunit or sci-fi adventure to become an incandescent exploration of "life, death, and the beauty of it all." Look in vain for cheesy time-travel machines and rock-'em-sock-'em action. Instead, the believable characters and unexpected ending invite readers to ponder the extraordinary that underlies the ordinary in this fictional world and in their own.

-- Mary Quattlebaum

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