Friday, December 10, 2010

38. Animals Big & Small: Three Books

Camille Saint-Saens's The Carnival of the Animals, new verses by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Mary Grand Pre, with a fully orchestrated CD of the Camille Saint-Saens music, Alfred A. Knopf, $19.99, ages 6-12, 40 pages. Playful verses and rollicking pictures bring French composer Saint-Saens's legendary musical suite to life on the page, as the acclaimed Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra accompanies on CD. In this merry march of words and pictures, Prelutsky stays true to the composition, delivering sweet, bouncy verses that are less nonsensical than others he's dreamed up, yet charmingly tied with tempo shifts and instrumentals in the orchestration.

When the music roars in the first movement, Prelutsky warns a lion king will "charge at almost everything," and later when the music bounces like kangaroos, he echoes their madcap pace, "they hop and they hop as though being pursued / for hopping's an action they cannot refuse." Then, as the scales of a piano play, a child recounts his teachers' screeches like chords being pounded in succession: "We practice, practice, practice / As she screeches, screeches, screeches." Grand Pre's paintings in rich hues capture the splendor and extravagance of the carnival parade and bring charming doses of mischief to every scene. In "Aquarium," you see a cat's magnified eyes looking into a water tank as fish as showy as clowns circle around the cat's eyes in a figure eight. "There is little that they know," Prelutsky writes of the fish. "They blow kisses as they go. / They don't notice what they see. / Or their own monotony." Remarkably, Saint-Saens only played the suite once for friends and once publicly, because he thought it was too frivolous compared to his great symphonies, yet it is it the music he is most remembered for.

Heads, written, illustrated and engineered by Matthew Van Fleet, edited and art directed by Skip Skwarek, Paula Wiseman Books, $17.99, ages 2 and up, 18 pages.  One push of the tab on the cover of this playful book and you know you're in for a delight. As the cover's tab goes in on an elastic mount, a giraffe, elephant, hippo and alligator wag their heads behind a plastic window. On each of their snouts balances or dangles a letter from the title, H-e-a-d-s." Inside the book, the fun only grows as readers get to pet the woolly head of a llama and watch baby platypuses hatch from eggs with the pull of a tab. Spare rhymes make for a bouncy read-aloud as animals of all shapes, sizes and looks interact with each other.
On the second spread, you read: "Long neck, Short neck, Curved neck, Straight. Gilled neck, Frilled neck, Neck… and with the pull of a tab, you read the word, "inflate,", as a frog's vocal sac blows out from its neck. Other pull-outs cause an elephant's ears to flap, a lizard's tongue to dart out, an elephant to sneeze water from its trunk, and a tiger's momma (or poppa) to open its eyes as a cub yawns. On the final page, you see a joyous reunion of all the animals being splashed into the air by water from a whale's snout. Once again the best-selling creator of Alphabet and Tails has created an adorable, super-sturdy book to preoccupy little ones.
EXTRAordinary Pets, Barroux, Blue Apple Books, $15.99, ages 4-8, 72 pages. A child changes his appearance to reflect the pet he really wants to have, but it's up to the reader to guess what that extraordinary pet could be in this charming guessing book. Gorgeously illustrated with simple line drawings on a bright orange floor, every spread is a three-part delight. On the left you see a child dressed or groomed like his ideal pet with a leash in his hand. To the right over the fold, connecting with the leash, you see the everyday pet he could have, if he was the sort to settle for something ordinary. Can you guess what pet he'd really get if he could make a wish and that wish would come true? A pet like no other, "unique as can be"? What could a boy in Mickey Mouse ears with flappers on his feet and a snorkel in his mouth possible want if it isn't a mouse, like the one pulling ahead on the leash? Fold open the flap and you will see, an eight-legged swimmer who could, quite possibly be, the best pet yet. Or what about the boy who loves bumpy red hats and to walk with his coattails flying behind him. Would a pup quite satisfy a chap like this? Lift the flap to test your guess, something with a comb perhaps?

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