June 08, 2017
(++++) FOR CUTENESS’ SAKE
Dog on a Frog? By Kes & Claire Gray. Illustrated by Jim Field. Scholastic. $16.99.
Monster’s New Undies. By Samantha Berger. Illustrated by Tad Carpenter. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.
Plenty of the characters in kids’ books are cute, but sometimes the cuteness extends beyond the characters to the stories in which they appear. That was the case in Frog on a Log? – or as it was more amusingly called in Britain, Oi Frog! Kes Gray made that children’s book a sendup of the traditions of children’s books, having a cat insist to an unwilling frog that frogs must sit on logs, because that is the rule, and all sorts of other animals must sit on all sorts of other specific rhyming things, because that is just the way things are. Now we have the sequel, Dog on a Frog? This one was called Oi Dog! across the pond – still a more-amusing title than we get in the colonies – but could as easily have been titled The Frog’s Rhyming Revenge. Or something along those lines. This time the frog takes over the narrative from the demanding cat. The book starts with a dog sitting on him – on the frog, that is – and the frog demanding that he get off. “I’m changing the rules,” announces the frog to both the dog and the insistent cat. Now dogs (not frogs) will sit on logs, and cats – let’s see – will sit on gnats. “Ouch!” says the cat – understandably. The frog is on a roll now, making decisions about which animals will sit where – every choice adorably and amusingly illustrated by Jim Field, who returns here after doing the previous book. Bears now sit on stairs, slugs on plugs, flies on pies, crickets on tickets, and so on and on and on and on. Soon we have cheetahs sitting on fajitas, gnus on canoes, and whales on nails (which they clearly do not appreciate having to do). And mice sit on ice, and puppies sit on guppies, and canaries sit on fairies, and baboons sit on balloons, and on and on we go, even with poodles sitting on noodles (and looking none too happy about it). As the book nears its end, the cat and the dog repeat all the weird and wonderful sitting spots that the frog has decided are appropriate for the various animals – ending with the thoroughly reasonable question of what frogs are now going to sit on. The answer: a chaise longue, beneath an umbrella, sipping a cool drink. And so we leave one very happy frog with a bewildered-looking dog on a log and a distinctly irritated cat on gnats…and that’s that.
The cuteness is in the service of a very different sort of story in Samantha Berger’s Monster’s New Undies. This monster is absolutely adorable: squat, green, appealingly horned and huge-eyed in Tad Carpenter’s illustrations. And he has a monstrous problem: old, torn, too-small underwear that he has used for so long that one day they actually fall apart. No problem – he will just do without. But…umm…no, that is not comfortable. So along goes the little monster with his monster mom to “Undie World,” about which he explains: “Leave it to MY mom,/ ’cause only she’d find/ a whole store devoted/ to JUST the behind!” There certainly are lots of choices here – all of them awful, in the little monster’s eyes. “Those are too long!/ Those are too short!/ Those look like a diaper!/ Those look like a skort!” Bad colors, bad designs, bad fit, bad appearance: “I guess there is nothing/ just right for this rump,” he bemoans. But then, way in the back of the store, there is a red-and-white pair that looks just like the little monster’s old undies (all the others he has seen have been blue-and-white). Both his mom and the salesthing are delighted, but neither is as happy as the little monster, shown by Carpenter across two full pages, wearing his new undies while hearts showing his adoration float everywhere. The little monster is so happy that he insists on buying 18 pairs of the new undies, and his mom is happy to indulge him as he dances and prances around looking utterly delighted, completely delightful, and entirely ridiculous. And very, very cute. Which is, of course, the, um, underlying point.