June 16, 2008

Variety of Children’s Books Take Kids on New Adventures

By Nicholas A. Basbanes

This month we go adventuring in a variety of ways, be it on the sea or under it, aboard a choo-choo train or aloft in an imaginary "flyer," or in the night sky aboard a "wooden shoe." All are great fun and sure to please.

'Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau'

By Jennifer Berne, illustrations by Eric Puybaret, Chronicle, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 4 to 8.

Long before he was a world-renowned oceanographer, underwater cinematographer and champion of the environment Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) was a curious boy who fell in love with the sea. Growing up in a small French village, the person who would invent the aqualung and probe the waters of the world dreamed often about being a kind of "manfish" who could probe the depths at will. Jennifer Berne profiles this protector of the seas and describes what he found while plying the oceans aboard his research ship Calypso. Berne's elegant text is complemented by Eric Puybaret's splendid illustrations, a few of which lead the way beneath the watery surface.

'Friday My Radio Flyer Flew'

Story and illustrations by Zachary Pullen, Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3 to 7.

Author-artist Zachary Pullen uses a minimum of words in this story of backyard adventure, concentrating, instead, on a series of larger-than-life paintings, all devoted to the exuberance of an imaginary flight aboard a vintage Radio Flyer toy wagon a boy discovers in the family attic one Saturday morning. Anticipation is everything here. Sunday is devoted to a stroll outside, Monday to daydreaming, Tuesday to tinkering with Dad in the garage, Wednesday to waiting out the rain, Thursday to a practice run. But Friday? "I focused," he says with eyes shut tight and arms spread wide, "and my Radio Flyer flew." So who says a kid has to travel far from home to have a memorable journey?

'Does a Sea Cow Say Moo?'

Story by Terry Webb Harshman, illustrations by George McClements, Bloomsbury, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4 to 8.

Terry Harshman's rhyming romp begins with the sudden arrival on the seashore of Flash, an amiable visitor from outer space who wants to know why some names found in the water are the same as others found on land. He starts with this: "School in the sea. / School in your town./ Does a school of fish study / In classrooms deep down?" Artist George McClements shows the way with delightful humor, not only for "schools" of fish, but for creatures such as sea cows, or manatees, and clown fish, or sea anemones, along with sea horses, starfish and oyster beds. These "silly sea facts," as Harshman calls them, are hilariously rendered.

'Wynken, Blynken, and Nod'

By Eugene Field, illustrations by Giselle Potter, Schwartz & Wade, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 3 to 7.

When first published in 1889, Eugene W. Field's lovely bedtime poem of three companions who sail off one night in a wooden shoe "on a river of crystal light, into a sea of dew" was titled, simply, "Dutch Lullaby," but it soon became known by the names of its three intrepid characters. The trio's goal: "We have come to fish for the herring fish / That live in this beautiful sea." The stars in the sky are the fish they seek, and before long they are home with an abundant catch. "Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes," Field explains in the final stanza, "and Nod is a little head." And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies, he concludes, "is a wee one's trundle-bed." Giselle Potters dreamlike paintings, rich in blues and half-tones, give a fresh new life to a timeless tale.

'Hey, Mr. Choo-Choo, Where Are You Going?'

Story by Susan Wickberg, illustrations by Yumi Heo, Putnam, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3 to 7.

A good old-fashioned choo-choo train, painted red, white and blue, pulls out of the station hauling a load of passengers, headed for a distant seashore through tunnels and cities, across flat plains and over high bridges, all the while answering a series of pointed questions to the rhythm of the chugging engine, the puffing smokestack and the clanging bells. Author Susan Wickberg describes a varied landscape and offers a cadenced text that will be great fun to read aloud. Yumi Heo's free-spirited pictures are playful and imaginative.

(c) 2008 Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.