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The Short Stack

Animal spirits

Short reviews of kid picture books: “Look!” By Jeff Mack and “It’s Only Stanley” by Jon Agee.


By Jeff Mack, Philomel, ages 3-5, $16.99

Throughout his sweet, silly new picture book Jeff Mack uses only two words —look and out — but he juggles their meanings and twists their contexts so slyly that the idea just floats, never clunks. The gorilla in the story, though, makes plenty of noise: to pull his friend’s attention away from the TV’s mesmerizing glow he balances a book on his nose then teeters on a pile of volumes (“Look!”), crashing onto the floor as the books go flying. His tricks only succeed, though, in annoying his friend, the boy, who won’t be distracted and shoos the ape away (“Look out!”).


But that hairy guy just won’t quit. For his final act the gorilla juggles books while balancing on a tricycle. Predictably it ends badly — the boy fuming, the ape in tears and the TV in pieces. The destruction of the magic box, though, allows a sweet literary friendship to take root. Look closely at each spread and you’ll notice the subtle designs that frame the illustrations. They give arresting visual texture and promote bookish theme of “Look!”

‘It’s Only Stanley’

by Jon Agee, Dial, ages 5-8, $17.99

The Wimbledons’ determined, deadpan dog, Stanley, has some surprising skills for a beagle. Sure, he can howl at the moon like most dogs, but he also appears to have some noisy hobbies that keep the members of his human family up all night long. It falls to Walter Wimbledon, the dad, to reassure his crabby, sleepless family each hour: That clanking reported by daughter Wendy? Stanley’s fixing the oil tank. The “funky smell/That made him kind of ill” reported by son, Willie? Stanley’s brewing a toxic-looking “catfish stew.” The simple, adorably rhyming text and the delightful novelty of a handy canine (and the family’s bedraggled, long-suffering cat) distract from the big reveal — Stanley’s not just tinkering, he’s transforming the Wimbledon house into a rocket ship to fly the family to the moon. Upon landing the family’s annoyance evaporates; Stanley’s project was designed to help him meet a (foreshadowed) special friend.


Nicole Lamy can be reached at