Sunday, August 08, 2010


Dogs Don't Do BalletDOGS DON'T DO BALLET by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilve (Simon and Schuster)
For my birthday I get tickets to the Royal Ballet.  "Can Biff come, too?"  I ask Dad.  "He loves ballet..." 
"No," says Dad.  "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Dogs don't do ballet!"
Miss Polly, the ballet teacher, concurs with Dad. This does not stop the little bulldog from twisting his neck upward to longingly admire a tutu hanging on a doorknob, or peering over a windowsill to observe an eclectic row of little girls of all colors, body types and fabulous hair-do's lined up at the barre. The dog's owner can't help from feeling watched as she rides the bus and walks down the street en route to the big show.  It seems like this canine understudy is not so easily discouraged by a few haters.  More than ready for his moment in the spotlight, is the audience ready for him?  Animals with performance aspirations are not new to the pages of children's books (Robert Kinerk's CLORINDA, Margie Palatini's MARY HAD A LITTLE HAM, Sergio Ruzzier's especially lovely AMANDINA, and Lydia and Don Freeman's PET OF THE MET to name a few), but the theme is executed here with a special panache, each page as fresh as a bloom in an opening night bouquet.  The storytelling moves along at a nice allegro tempo, the art well-matched with a loose and lively line.  Extremely cheerful, colorful and expressive, this old dog has learned a new trick sure to inspire pirouettes, chuckles and encore readings.  Applause!  (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Let's add a couple more shiny new cars to this cuteness train.

Roly Poly PangolinROLY POLY PANGOLIN by Anna Dewdney (Viking, 2010) "Roly, Poly, very small, / Doesn't like new things at all."  True dat.  Roly Poly is freaked out in tidy rhyming couplets for many pages.  He's afraid to eat the bug offered for dinner.  And what's that sound coming from the bush?  The darling wide-eyed wonder--and worry--so effectively portrayed in Dewdney's other books (LLAMA LLAMA MISSES MAMA) is worked again to good effect here, with animals as sweet, safe preschool stand-ins (and a nifty picture of a real live pangolin,  an endangered species and animal sweetie pie, on the back flap).  Whether clinging squinty-eyed to his mother's tail or rolling into a defensive ball, it's not until friends reveal themselves that he can relax and realize, "Roly Poly, very small /not so frightened, after all."  Whew.  Glad Roly Poly found a support group.  (3 and up)

Barry the Fish with FingersBARRY:  THE FISH WITH FINGERS by Sue Hendra (Knopf, 2010) A little blue fish has cleverly made appendages out of some fish sticks (work with me, here), and uses his new digits to entertain the ennui-laden undersea troops with finger painting, tickle chases, a little piano playing and, of course, a puppet show.  All swell, but there's one trick Barry's fingers does that save the lives of all his fishy friends, and has all the bottom-dwellers styling.  This is an odd and oddly irresistible book, brazenly unfraid of exercising a more childlike suspension of belief or being quirky (naming a fish "Barry," for instance, seems along the lines of the work of the great Arthur Yorinks or maybe Daniel Pinkwater).  The art is all preschool party, with splashy, straightforward pictures that you can see from across the room, bringing to mind Ed Emberley's GO AWAY, BIG GREEN MONSTER (though for some grown-ups, Barry himself might bring to mind WHERE WILLY WENT, but whatever, it's not for us).  This book is not cheap on the brand of silly kids love, and be sure to compare the front end papers with the back for a final laugh.  This book is good with or without ketchup.  (4 and up)

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