Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories

This the second in a series about Annie, a preschooler, and Simon, her big, big brother. Catharine O'Neill based the stories on her own daughter and stepsons. Refreshingly, the sibling relationship is free of angst. Simon is a protective, sympathetic older brother,  and Annie is an admiring younger sister. ("Simon," she said, "do you know everything?")

The four stories involve casual moments as the two hang out together. Is Simon minding Annie? Perhaps, but if so the author never lets on. In the first story, which takes place on a dock, Annie sketches animals while Simon incorrectly identifies them. (He thinks a clam is a rock.) In "The Sneeze" Annie nurses Simon through his allergies, although in actuality it's Simon who ends up doing the bulk of the work. Chapter Three has Annie learning to appreciate her dog Hazel's dogginess, and in the final story Annie learns (with some gentle prodding from Simon) to share the horse chestnuts she's collected with a deserving squirrel.

While the pace of these stories might be a bit slow for some tastes, the underlying humor and the real sense of affection between brother and sister more than makes up for it. The typical reader for this book most likely falls somewhere between the two protagonists ages: older and more savvy than Annie, yet younger and less accomplished than Simon. Again, this might be a problem for certain readers. Most, however, should be able to feel comfortably superior to Annie (who's just learning to read), while aspiring to Simon's sophistication. All in all, this is a worthy series for beginning chapter book readers.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Niño Wrestles the World

When two of my nephews were around six and seven nothing delighted them more than tuning in to Thursday night's wrestling shows. Naturally, they refused any adult's attempt to inform them that the performances were fake. When I read this page-turning picture book, I thought of them (now young adults) and how much they would have enjoyed it.

The niño of this title sports a pair of tighty whities and not much else. Using his way too active imagination, he casts himself as a luchadore, a professional wrestler popular in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Niño's opponents are nothing to sneeze at. What I liked best about this book was Morales' depiction of these truly scary characters. There's La Momia de Guanajuato, a zombie-like creature; Cabeza Olmeca, an ancient stone-head sculpture; La Llorona, a ghost, El Extraterrestre, a space alien; and El Chamuco, the devil himself. Niño creatively dispatches his opponents with ease--until, that is, he faces his most fearsome match. Las Hermanitas, his twin sisters, wake from their nap and gleefully attack their big brother.

The bold art offers surprises on every page and the graphic text adds to the excitement. An informative end note explains lucha libre, Mexican professional wrestling, in greater detail. Great fun!