Children’s books reviewed

April 7th, 2008  |  Tags: , , , , ,  |  2 Comments

Birthday Trouble and other Martin Mongoose Mysteries, by Ewa Czarnecki (translated from Polish by Pawel Marcik). (Spanner Juvenile, 2008)

This installment in the long-running Martin Mongoose series is the first to make its way to the States. Martin is a clever animal detective who wears an overcoat and — with his bubble-pipe-smoking, monocled sidekick Friedrich Fox — solves various petty crimes by catching suspects in subtle but ultimately trivial contradictions. Since many of these involve absurdly specialist knowledge (e.g., “The case of the Swiss Miss,” in which a character who is putatively from Zurich is caught in a lie when she expresses a preference for slab-serif typefaces), they are unlikely to improve the deductive skills of young readers. Furthermore, Marcik’s rendering preserves the essential meaning of Czarnecki’s original, but not its meter or rhyme schemes. If your child enjoys other stories involving animal detectives or mongooses with birthdays, you might give this a shot, but you may wish to wait until it inevitably reaches the remainder pile.

The Unhappy Okapi, by Søren Tyggegummi. (Arbitrary Haus, 2005)

This heartwarming tale follows the exploits of Arturo, an okapi with a big secret, and his best friend Zoltan, a jackdaw who is far away from home. The two enjoy several comic misadventures before learning valuable lessons about regular motor vehicle maintenance, the importance of family, and proper dining etiquette. The watercolor illustrations, by Eric Carle disciple Jeremy Albrecht, are sparse and derivative (one snide young reader remarked: “what is this, The Very Hungry Jackdaw?“), but they do not detract from the sparkling prose. Recommended for very aggressive toddlers and their parents.

Fume Hoods for Oliver, by Geoff Froberger. (Kruhft & Sons, 2007)

Oliver is a charming sea otter who lives in the Pacific Northwest. While most of his family and friends are content to playfully frolic in the waves, occasionally cracking mussel shells with flat rocks, Oliver is unhappy. His dream is to be a bench scientist and — eventually — to become a principal investigator of important scientific questions. After a visit from some helpful local researchers, Oliver learns how to make his wish a reality and discovers a thing or two about the NSF grant review process along the way. While Oliver’s motivations are unclear, his spirit shines through each of the sixteen pages. Recommended for bright youngsters who love marine mammals and harbor inexplicable ambitions. (Note that this tale is also available in a waterproof board book edition that may be suitable for bathtime use, if not for cracking mussels.)