Books

short stack

Of mice and dog

‘Buddy and Earl’

By Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff, Groundwood Books, $16.95, ages 4-7

Buddy is affable and curious, but he’s a dog who’s also a little too distractible and credulous. It’s not that he doesn’t mean well. Buddy fully intends to stay in his bed (“Buddy concentrated hard on staying.”) and steer clear of the mysterious package he has been warned about, but an itch diverts his attention and he wanders over to check out the contents of the box. “Buddy stared at the thing. He wondered what it was. He sniffed and sniffed. Maybe I should lick it, he thought.” He doesn’t, though, and good thing, too, since the object is alive and, well, prickly. In texture and in personality. The prickly fellow says his name is Earl and despite what he tells Buddy he is not a race car, a giraffe, or a sea urchin. What is he then? An imaginative hedgehog with a sense of adventure. The breezy story of these two unlikely friends unfolds mostly through dialogue that is as witty and flirty as a Mike Nichols and Elaine May comedy act for kids. And it deserves to be read aloud — Earl flat and a little nasal, and Buddy in a soft baritone worked for us — over and over again.

‘Two Mice’

By Sergio Ruzzier, Clarion Books, $12.99, ages 4-7

Even the littlest kids know what comes after one and before three. Despite that fact “Two Mice” — a counting book to three and back down again — holds many surprises, especially for the two mice who are the heroes of the story. Out in one boat with two oars, exploring, the mice see two ducklings hatch from one egg; three rocks make two holes in their one boat; two trees on one island are revealed to be the legs of a predatory bird. There’s a lot of drama for a book about counting, but that’s not the only stunner.

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The world Ruzzier creates with his illustrations is so singular, so extraterrestrial that the pictures give the story a sci-fi vibe. On planet Ruzzier — a colorful, enigmatic place — there are flowers that are red, purple, and yellow all on one stem and bushes with sinuous red branches that sprout from nearly Martian-looking landscapes. It’s as if, having used the numbers to count down (and up), Ruzzier blasts off. And in the process an ordinary counting concept turns stellar.

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