Next year’s Cybils, that is. These two new books are the first to go on my own list of possible books to nominate. (And yes, I keep a list.) Fraidyzoo is author-illustrator Thrya Heder’s first picture book and it’s an amazing debut. It’s a perfect day for the zoo but Little T is afraid to go. She can’t remember why she is afraid. Her loving family tries to help her remember so they can help her not be afraid. They go through the alphabet of animals but none of them seem to be the answer. As they guess they dress up in homemade costumes and act out the animals; the costumes get more and more elaborate as the book goes on. From Dad in a pink tutu as a flamingo to yaks made out of all their winter coats and sweaters, the crazy costumes are what make this book so unique. There is a funny twist at the end that my kids loved but what I loved most was the way the book celebrates both the sweetness and quirkiness of the family. I love that they respect Little T’s fears and find a silly way to help her overcome them. I also love the detailed illustrations (reminiscent of one of my favorite illustrators, Marla Frazee). Endpages that look like a family bulletin board identify all the animals portrayed in the book.
Battle Bunny is definitely NOT the first book of authors’ Jon Sciezka and Mac Barnett. It is also definitely not sweet. It is hilarious and brilliant. Designed to look like an old-fashioned Golden Book type of book named Birthday Bunny, ostensibly the book has then been altered by a boy named Alex who received it for his birthday. The genius comes in the two stories and how spot on they are. First, there is an underlying saccharine sweet story about a bunny on his birthday and all his friends in the woods that are planning him a surprise party. Then there is the overlying story, told through what looks like penciled in writing over crossed out text and crudely altered illustrations. Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny who has an an evil plan to takeover the forest. None of the other animals can stop him until Alex is called in. There are grenades and rocket launchers and zombie animals and ninja warriors. In other words, it’s exactly what many boys would think would make this kind of insipid story better.
As an aside, I’ll say that I have two boys. They are sweet and funny and smart and loving. But let’s just say that for a long time a favorite game to play in the car was “what destroys what”. Where they would think of successively more powerful and destructive things to destroy what ever the other person thought of. John is on an Odyssey of the Mind team this year with a group of 7 other fifth grade boys and every time the team does a “spontaneous” (kind of a thinking game) the answers end up being about death, destruction, bombs, weapons, or body fluids. Or farts. They can start with something like “name blue things” and end up talking about “the blueberry that exploded and blew off so and so’s head”. I know not all boys are like this, so please don’t leave me comments about how your boy would never engage in such behavior. However, many many perfectly normal boys are exactly like that. And they will love this book.
The reason Battle Bunny is so good goes beyond the mildly subversive story. It’s in the details. From the way the cover looks slightly scuffed to make the book look like an mid-century Golden Book to the way “Alex” has scribbled in birthdays for the authors to make them seem impossibly old, it’s all well-done.