Sunday, October 17, 2004
There's something funny going on here.
In fact, these are three very ridiculous narratives that will tickle the funny bones of virtually anyone, from young children who look and listen, to the adults who beg, borrow, steal or buy them.
In a world filled with celebrity-written children's books, Jay Leno's "If Roast Beef Could Fly" ($17.95, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) stands out as quite possibly the best. Illustrated effectively by S.B. Whitehead, the book is based on a true incident from Leno's childhood which reveals that the talk show host was devilish even back then.
Fortunately for him, schemer that he was, he had a forgiving father who even laughed when Jay ruined his prize roast beef. The novel way in which he does this is too good to reveal; get the book. Kids will be rolling on the floor when they see and hear the scene for themselves. As an added treat, the publisher includes a CD of Leno narrating the book. All in all, it makes for a great package.
Totally different but equally laughable is Tim Egan's "The Trial of Cardigan Jones" ($16, Houghton Mifflin Company), featuring a moose whose antlers could single-handedly cause a riot or other catastrophe. A suspect in The Case of the Missing Apple Pie, Cardigan makes one chaotic move after another as he attempts to clear himself of the charge, reducing the courtroom to shambles as he gets his antlers caught on one thing after another.
The question of what happened to the pie almost becomes secondary to the question of what Cardigan will demolish next. Fortunately for him, an upstanding judge refuses to allow him to be convicted without ample evidence, and eventually the judge manages to literally sniff out the crime's solution.
The deadpan style of Egan's paintings is ideal for this offbeat story.
Totally crazy and immensely winning is the adventure "Dinos on the Go," by Karma Wilson with illustrations by Laura Rader ($15.99, Little, Brown and Company). It'd be hard to find a kid who doesn't love dinosaurs, and both author and illustrator present the prehistoric beasts in a most imaginative way. That, really, is the book's biggest plus: It stimulates creative thinking because words and pictures are so individualistic. How could children help but enter into the fantasy world when they see a Barosaurus riding a bike?
These episodes are so fresh and unusual that they're bound to stimulate young minds. Prior to this, who ever envisioned a dinosaur wedding?
Looking at these three books, it seems very likely they were created far more for fun than for profit. Money makers they may well be, but they are so ebullient that money could only be a secondary consideration. And spending money on them is an investment in good times that only a very cranky adult could object to.