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Kids Books -- "D" By Title
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"The Daddy Book"
"The Mommy Book"
Written by Todd Parr
Illustrated by Todd Parr
(Megan Tingley Books, 2002)

These happy, friendly, brightly colored, cartoonish books sing the praise of playful, goofy parents, with equal time given to each gender. The simplicity and directness of the artwork is similar in its impact to the "Maisy" books, as is the plain, declarative writing. Parr's work hints at a hipper world view, however, with dads that do housework and moms who ride rad-looking motorcycles. The Daddy Book is probably the most significant of the two, since it depicts fathers engaged in what are (sadly) still considered unmasculine activities, such as vacuuming and baking cookies. The Mommy Book scrupulously offers an equal-time version of almost exactly the same activities, although dressing up and shopping are two mommy-only events not seen in the other book. There is a teensy, almost imperceptible bit of bias in favor of dad's, notably when a mom is seen singing and the kids frown and wince, as opposed to the big grins seen in The Daddy Book. This is really nitpicking, though: this series is patently and explicitly "politically correct" (or "progressive," if you prefer), and quite nice for trying to introduce not only so many social roles, but also a wide range of activities for kids (and parents) to consider. Most important, they are cheerful and fun to read. I'd recommend them for kids under one year old -- once they can fully see color, they'll love this bold, vibrant artwork. (Parr has a bunch of other books, which I haven't checked out. Some, like The Peace Book, seem a little too ooey-gooey for me...)
(B)


"The Daddy Mountain"
Written by Jules Feiffer
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
(Hyperion, 2004)

A little girl steels herself for action, clambering up the imposing edifice that is her father... Climbing first onto his feet, then up his leg, grabbing onto a shirt, then up and over the shoulders and finally (--ouch!!--) grabbing his ears, and triumphantly hauling herself atop his head... Although this lacks the fluid narrative ease and nuanced characterization of some of Feiffer's other work (and, indeed, reads like a how-to manual for a page or two...), it's still a nice, fun book, promoting healthy father-daughter relations, and encouraging rambunctiousness and athleticism in young girls. I thought the prose was a bit flat, but my daughter liked the book -- especially the double-page fold-out -- and would ask for it to be read over once or twice. It's no Bark, George, but it'll do for an afternoon or two.
(B-)


"Daffodil"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Tomek Bogacki
(Farrar Strauss/Frances Foster Books, 2004)

Jenkins and Bogacki team up for another offbeat story, this time about a young girl named Daffodil who feels oppressed by her mother's insistence that Daffoldil wear yellow dresses whenever they go out to parties. See, Daffodil is one of three identical triplets, and she and her sisters, Violet and Rose, have been color-sorted by their well-intentioned mom, who just wants people to be able to tell the girls apart. In the end, Daffodil rebels, which inspires her sisters to reveal that they, too, hate having to wear the same old dresses all the time. When I first found this book, I was a little concerned that it might overly highlight negative emotions (Daffodil pitches a real fit when she finally stands up for herself...) but my little girl really warmed to the story, and we don't seem to be much more tantrummy now than we were pre-Daffodil... Like Ella Sarah Gets Dressed, this is a good story showing how personal fashion can be be important to little kids (particularly girls) who are trying to establish their own identities and personal boundaries, apart from those imposed by their parents. (Plus, we had a lot of fun making cut-out dresses and paper dolls that looked like Daffodil and her sisters...) (A)


"Daffodil Crocodile"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Tomek Bogacki
(Farrar Strauss/Frances Foster Books, 2007)

Daffodil is back, and as prickly and charming as ever. Although the triplets resolved their going-to-parties dressing up cutesy-cute issues in the previous book, being identical still presents problems elsewhere, especially at school, where teachers and even her closest playmates still mistake Daffodil for her flower-named siblings. When their mother makes a life-size, paper-mache crocodile mask in one of her art classes, Daffodil literally seizes the opportunity to become someone new and more distinctive. Eager to differentiate herself from the mellower, more girly Violet and Rose, Daffodil wears the new mask night and day, even taking it to school and growling RAA RAA RAA at everyone she sees. Even though her teachers, sisters and fellows students all tell her she's acting weird, Daffodil sticks to her guns and revels in the new identity until finally the mask falls apart. But even though she has to be plain old Daffodil again, she insists that she's still not a flower, and not a nice, gentle, little girl. A playful celebration of rowdiness and a child's right to define their personality... As with the first Daffodil book, this might not be for everyone, but if you're on their wavelength, Jenkins and Bogacki have made another fun book with a complex emotional core. (A-)


"Dahlia"
Written by Barbara McClintock
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Frances Foster Books/Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2002)

I lo-o-o-ove Barbara McClintock's artwork, her beautifully-rendered, cheerfully subversive reappropriation of old-fashioned, Edwardian draftsmanship, and how she uses it to tell a slightly more chaotic, more true-to-life kid's world view. Better still to have her write the stories, too, as seen here in this excellent tomboy tale. Meet Charlotte, a ponytailed brunette who lets her wheatstraw tresses go wild as she climbs trees, gathers pinecones and beetles and whips up some mighty mud pies. When her Aunt Edme gives Charlotte a delicate, pinafored porcelain doll, you think, uh-oh.... trouble ahead! But it turns out Aunt Edme is cool, too, and everyone's happy to see the new doll, Dahlia, go out and get a little fresh air. A fun story, told with subtlety and economy, and lovely, lavish artwork. Recommended!
(A)


"Dance, Tanya"
Written by Patricia Lee Gauch
Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
(Philomel, 1989)

The start of the Tanya series introduces us to a little girl who loves to dance -- she imitates her big sister and follows her to ballet class, but is frustrated when her parents tell her she's still too little to go to class. In the end, though, her close study of her sister's lessons pays off -- when Tanya gives an impromtu dance recital for her family, everyone realizes that she has real talent, and in the end she gets to go to classes, too. Thus starts the Tanya saga, which delves into ballet and the pressures of performance art -- if your child is enrolled in dance classes, the level of detail in these books might be a real help; the discipline required to master the art is unsentimentally explored, as is the difference between kids who "love to dance" and those who can apply themselves to the rigors of formal instruction. For casual readers -- kids who just think dancing sounds cool -- these books may be too detailed and complex -- and even a bit discouraging. It might be worth your while to read them ahead of time, to see if you think they'll be appropriate for whatever level your child is at... This first volume is one of the nicest, though. Recommended.
(B+)


"The Dancing Deer And The Foolish Hunter"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 2002)

A deerhunter learns a moral/spiritual lesson when he tries to capture (and tame) a dancing deer he found in the forest... The deer can't dance in captivity, though -- it's inspiration comes from nature, and the hunter's capitalist plans come to naught. We haven't field-tested this one yet, because I don't want to tell my daughter about the hunting and killing of wild animals. It's just too grotty and cruel, so I'm avoiding the topic for now. For an older kid, though, this would be a great book. The sentiment is right, but we're just not ready for the subject. (B-)


"The Dangerous Snake And Reptile Club"
Written by Daniel San Souci
Illustrated by Daniel San Souci
(Tricycle Press, 2004)

This book introduces Daniel San Souci's "clubhouse gang," a group of kids (all boys in the first book) that share wild enthusiasms and re-name their club with each new adventure. Here, the boys get into reptiles and amphibians, forming the "The Dangerous Snake And Reptile Club" of the title. They catch dozens of tadpoles, salamanders and non-poisonous snakes, then put them on display for the folks in their neighborhood to see. The reptile club eventually loses focus and the animals are set free, but in the last panel of the book, the stage is set for a sequel, when the boys find a "meteor" in a neighbor's back yard. This series perfectly captures the excitement with which preteens delve into their passions... I'm not wild about the artwork, which borders on the grotesque, but the books work -- my kid loved 'em and wanted to hear more. (B)


"David's Drawings"
Written by Catheryn Falwell
Illustrated by Catheryn Falwell
(Lee & Low Books, 2001)

A shy young boy (with a gift for art) goes to school one day and finds friendship when he cheerfully lets the other kids in his class share a picture he drew of a bare tree in winter. They decorate it with leaves, grass, clouds, stars, people and animals, a visual brightening-up that's mirrored in David's life, as his new friends invite him to play with them at recess. When he goes, home, though, David sees the grey tree again, and recreates his original picture, showing that he can still be true to himself while making friends and accomodating their needs. This is a sweet little story -- a consistent favorite with my daughter -- that makes its point without being too heavy-handed. Nice multiculturalism, too, reflected in all the kids in the class. Initially I wasn't fond of the artwork, but now I like the whole package. Nice book... definitely recommended!
(A)




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