Robot reviews: Two from Toon Books

Luke on the Looseby Harry BlissToon Books, 32 pages, $12.95.

This is my favorite title in the Toon Books line so far. Bliss, best known for his contribution to the New Yorker as well as children's books like Diary of a Worm, delivers a great manic energy to this story of a boy who wanders away from his dad and ends up chasing pigeons all across New York City. I liked how the backgrounds where filled with Mad Magazine-like nonsense bits like having Tintin and Olive Oyl as aghast onlookers or the dog walker who was keeps getting pulled around the park. I liked Luke's father's nonchalance at losing his son and how his dialogue was frequently summed up as "boring dad talk." I liked how Bliss uses long, horizontal panels to denote both setting and motion, as in an amusing sequence where Luke runs roughshod through an outdoor restaurant, interrupting a proposal in the process. Basically it's speedy pace and refuse to take itself seriously or offer any sort of moral works in its favor and I think kids will get a few good belly laughs out of Luke's adventures. I know I did.

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!by Geoffrey HayesToon Books, 32 pages, $12.95.

This is more traditional storybook fare, done in a classic watercolor, "cute animals" style that comes complete with a heartwarming moral about the importance of not jumping to conclusions. To wit: Benny and Penny have learned there's a new kid who moved in next door, but don't know anything abut him or her. When Benny can't find his pail he immediately assumes the new neighbor took it and he and his sister trespass in an attempt to get it back. Trouble ensues, but is speedily resolved with lots of "I'm sorry's" and "let's be friends" to go around.

What I like about the Benny and Penny books is that they resemble actual kids, not just in their speech and demeanor but in the way they interact with each other. They're very recognizable siblings which will no doubt appeal to a lot of young readers with similar family structures. No-No doesn't offer an adult "in" the way Luke does with his manic, silly behavior, but perhaps Hayes is just more focused on his core audience's concerns.

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