Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where the wild things bounce

Quick question: which would you rather read, a book that tells you reading is fun, or a book that is fun to read? Judy Sierra and Marc Brown's Wild About Books, first published in 2004, manages to be a little bit of both, as bookmobile librarian Molly McGrew turns a whole zoo onto the pleasures of the printed word: "She even found waterproof books for the otter / Who never went swimming without Harry Potter."

Reading-is-fun books tend, unsurprisingly, to come to foregone conclusions, but the messagey nature of this one is ameliorated to a great extent by Sierra's witty and expert rhymes and Brown's illustrations, packed with animals to find and count. And the book gets a huge boost in appeal in its new iPad iteration from Random House. Placing aside discussion of the irony of a digital celebration of print for another time, let's just look at some of the added value of this new edition. Younger kids who might miss some of the book's in-jokes (about reviewing, for example, harrumph), can still enjoy poking the scorpion to hear his stinging critiques ("Stinks."), and every screen offers similar opportunities to make the animals jump around, hoot, or, in the case of the hyenas reading a joke book, laugh like, er, hyenas. Balls can be tossed about, clouds can be moved around in the sky; the giraffe's neck makes a satisfying sproing when pulled down and released. What gives the book a real spring is its apparent three-dimensionality: the pictures are put together in layers which reveal themselves when the iPad is moved; tilting the device to the right or left causes new bits of the pictures to emerge and even small movements give the pictures an agreeably gently bounce. One caveat: do the reading aloud yourself, as the supplied optional narrator has that over-perky talking-to-children tone that we professionals had trained out of us in library school.

-- Roger Sutton

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