For a child's holiday

Monday Book Reviews

December 17, 1990|By John Goodspeed

The following books, produced by Maryland publishers and/or Maryland artists and writers, will make suitable holiday gifts for children. Reviewed by John Goodspeed.

THE OCTOPUS WHO WANTED TO JUGGLE. Text by Robert Pack. Illustrations by Nancy Willard. Galileo Press, Baltimore. 33 pages. $13.95.

The illustrator of this story for little kids, Nancy Willard, won the coveted Newberry Award for "distinguished contribution to children's literature" in 1982, and her four-color illustrations here are among the best around this year.

One mistake that stands out is her depiction, on Page 21, of a live blue crab under water as bright red. Any Maryland child with sense enough to play with a slap-bracelet knows crabs are only red after they're dead and steamed.

The text is by Robert Pack, who is director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, a teacher at Middlebury College in Vermont and a "distinguished poet" who in this book, nevertheless, has imitated the undistinguished (but very popular) verse style of Dr. Seuss. Pack begins his story thus:

If I told you I know an artistic cow,

you'd want to know what she draws, and how.

If I said, "There's an elephant on this bus!"

you would believe me, you wouldn't fuss,

there'd be no hubbub, no hullabaloo,

but if I said with a hi, and a hoo,

"Meet Sam, an octopus born to juggle -- "

if I told you that, your eyes would buggle.

Does that scan like "The Cat in the Hat"? Badly, that is, with rhymes dragged in from left field and so on?

The story involves an octopus who wants to juggle stuff and can do it with seven of his legs. But he can't make that eighth leg behave.

Children should shriek with laughter at this absurdity and fall on the floor with mirth when they detect the mistakes.

CHESSIE, THE SEA MONSTER THAT ATE ANNAPOLIS. Text by Jeffrey Holland. Illustrations by Marcy Dunn Ramsey. Oak Creed Publishing Co., Royal Oak. 32 pages. $8.95.

The pitch in this book for very young children by two people well known around Annapolis and the Eastern Shore is that "Chessie," the legendary monster in the Chesapeake Bay, is actually a giant female golden retriever. She is hauled out and taken home by a kindly waterman but wanders away and starts && eating the State House. This would surely annoy historical preservation fans, but others will think it's real cute, especially after Chessie rescues watermen who would otherwise be locked in by winter ice at Annapolis Harbor. It's dog-gone silly -- but no sillier than Dr. Seuss.

OSWALD AND THE TIMBERDOODLES. Text by Priscilla Cummings. Illustrations by A. R. Cohen. Tidewater Publishers. 28 pages. $8.95.

Another work by Maryland talent for young children is this one by the same folks who brought you a previous series about Chadwick the Crab, best-sellers despite the critics.

This is a better book. The hero is a great blue heron who can't straighten his neck and who (hold on for this) likes to read books, which, of course, makes him a figure of fun. He's no funnier looking than his pals the timberdoodles (woodcocks), but some of the prissier animals disdain him until, thanks to a tornado, he's appreciated.

) Whither anthropomorphism?

SOMETHING'S ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF MARYLAND. By Laura A. Sonnemark. Scholastic Inc. 165 pages. $12.95.

It took real nerve for Laura Sonnemark, an Annapolis writer, to put a title like this on a book for teen-age readers, but in fact it's not at all rotten. The prose is a lot fresher than that in many a post-modern novel for adults, and even though the story is strikingly similar to countless TV plots in sitcoms, it's thoroughly entertaining.

The heroine is that staple of TV -- the wisest, most beautiful, shrewdest and most fortunate of all Americans, the teen-age female. The scene is Magothy Beach, Md. The heroine has a real cute boyfriend, a surprisingly intelligent jock, but she gets hooked on a youth interested in theater, and like wow! Does that ever cause problems! You bet your funny haircut it does! But it's all totally fab, or rad, or whatever the superlative is in that language.

Incidentally, it's the only book in this review that was printed in the United States. The others were printed in Asia.


John Goodspeed is a writer living in Easton.

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