A review of three new children’s books
DORY AND THE REAL TRUE FRIEND
By Abby Hanlon
Dial, 160 pp., illustrated, $14.99, ages 6-8
THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA:
The Secrets Behind What You Eat. Young Reader’s Edition.
By Michael Pollan
Dial, 400 pp., illustrated, $18.99, ages 10 and up
WHERE DID MY CLOTHES COME FROM?
By Chris Butterworth. Illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti
Candlewick, 29 pp., $12.99, ages 5-8
Dory, star of the well-loved “Dory Fantasmagory” (an American Library Association Notable Book and Golden Kite Honor Book for Fiction), is about to start school. “[Y]ou can’t talk to yourself at school,” her brother, Luke, reminds her. Her sister is even clearer: “the most important thing for you to remember is, DON’T BE YOURSELF. Can you do that?”
Dory, of course, being Dory, can’t not be herself — thank heavens. She’s cut from the same cloth as fictional heroines like Ramona the Pest and Junie B. Jones. She’ll want her invisible friend, Mary, with her, and she’ll still play scary Mrs. Gobble Cracker. Still, she’d like a “real true friend.” When she meets the perfect princess classmate Rosabelle, things look unpromising. Rosabelle wears her princess clothes to school and draws princesses in her spare time. She’s popular and pretty, and Dory’s brother and sister are pretty sure she’s imaginary, too. But it turns out Rosabelle has a few tricks up her own puffed sleeves.
The pleasure of Abby Hanlon’s work lies in her pitch-perfect ear for the way kids really think, talk, and act. While Dory sits through show and tell, for instance, she’s “imagining that all the kids on the rug are newborn hamsters.” There are cartoony drawings scattered throughout “Dory and the Real True Friend,” making it almost a Wimpy Kid-style book for the younger set. And irrepressible Dory is as likable a kid heroine as I’ve encountered in a decade. My guess is we’re in for more books about Dory — and I’m all in for all of them.
Michael Pollan’s New York Times bestseller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” changed the food-buying and eating habits of a generation. It’s hard to think of a more important, groundbreaking work about American nutrition. And of course “the secrets behind what you eat,” as the books cover says, are of vital importance to our young people, who suffer more from obesity and food-related illnesses than any previous generation. A Young Reader’s Edition of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was a brilliant idea. Best of all, I’m happy to report, nothing essential has been lost from the original — not the clarity of thought, not the sparkling wit, the elegant prose — in short, it has mostly been trimmed and tightened, something many an adult book could use. I’d be very surprised if this edition didn’t appeal as much to adult readers as to younger ones.
In Pollan’s brief preface, he considers how his book might be used by kids: “encouraging their parents to shop differently — to buy organic or local food, for example.” He points out that some of his young readers have become vegetarian after reading his work, while others have chosen to be “a conscious carnivore.” His aim, he explains, was not to preach either way, but “to give you the information you need to make good choices.”
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” gives a vast amount of useful information about the food we eat — the prevalence of corn products; the issue of eating food flown in offseason and from great distances; the benefits of growing, buying, and eating local (“When chickens get to live like chickens, they’ll taste like chickens too”). Pollan makes his larger points by telling pointed, even personal stories. He keeps his wits and his sense of humor about him. And at times, as when he hunts and shoots his first game, he can break your heart.
The young reader’s edition contains sidebars and illustrations and goofy chapter headings to make the book more kid-friendly. In the afterword Pollan writes, “I suspect that reading this book will complicate your eating life.” In my own experience, Pollan’s advice has simplified and clarified my eating life. I try to eat more locally grown food, to prepare more of my own meals from scratch, and to avoid foods with loads of ingredients I can’t pronounce. It’s never too early to be aware of making good choices — “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” will set many young readers on the path toward better eating, and better living.
Former American poet laureate Robert Pinsky has a poem — perhaps his best-known poem — called “Shirt” that ends, “The shape,/The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.” The poem forces us to think for a moment about the shirt we wear on our backs, unconscious of everything that’s gone into its making. “Where Did My Clothes Come From?” takes us on a similar journey, though this one does it by way of the picture book — which is, come to think of it, a kind of visual and distilled form of poetry.
Author Chris Butterworth focuses on a few key items in a typical child’s wardrobe: blue jeans, wool sweater, party dress, soccer uniform, fleece jacket, rubber boots. Butterworth’s text is crisp and clear: “Synthetic fibers start as a mixture of chemicals that make a kind of sticky syrup. Inside a machine, this syrup is squeezed through tiny holes into thin strands that harden into fibers.” And, as in many good scientifically based children’s books, there are moments that become lyrical as well: “Silk can be made into different kinds of cloth: floaty silk, shiny satin, soft taffeta, or rich velvet.”
Author and illustrator in “Where Did My Clothes Come From?” work a little like straight man and comic — with Butterworth giving us the facts as plainly as possible, and illustrator Lucia Gaggiotti dancing images all around the words, adding a bright, happy energy to the book. There’s an almost Asian quality to many of these pictures, and a slightly retro feel to them as well, since Gaggiotti uses the kind of color palette popular in the 1950s and early ’60s, with lots of pale pinks, lemon yellows, and geometric shapes. The result is a particularly lively nonfiction book that not only gives a child a great deal of information, but also a sense of how worldwide the business of clothing really is. There’s a full double-page spread dedicated to “Recycling Facts” and a handy index at the back. Elementary school teachers will love this book; so will young fashionistas with a sense of curiosity.
Liz Rosenberg teaches English at Binghamton University and is the author, most recently, of “The Moonlight Palace.’’