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CHILDREN'S BOOKS

The Story of a Couch Setter : AMOS: THE STORY OF AN OLD DOG AND HIS COUCH by Susan Seligson and Howie Schneider (Little, Brown: $11.95; 32 pp.; ages 2-6)

February 07, 1988|Kristiana Gregory

The saying, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, is not true about the old sport in this story. Amos is an Irish setter who spends his days on a worn couch, gazing mournfully out the window because Mr. and Mrs. Dobson again have run errands without him. It is pure serendipity when he discovers his couch has zip, that he can throw it into gear and varoom it down the street like a sports car. What joy he has tailing the Dobsons, then sneaking home before they do. On another day, a traffic jam foils his plan, but a happy change takes place because of it.

Both Seligson's and Schneider's bylines appear on the cover so it's not clear who did what. This is only mentioned because Howie Schneider is the noted creator of the syndicated comic strip, "Eek and Meek," and he has contributed to numerous magazines such as the New Yorker and Saturday Review. The black-and-white drawings here are as simple and funny as his cartoons, brightened by just three colors: The couch is orange, car green and Amos red. This is great fun to read aloud, especially because preschoolers find this story hilarious. You can tell 'em it's based on a real live Amos, who spends most of his time on a nondriving couch in a sea town of Massachusetts.

ARTHUR SETS SAIL by Libor Schaffer; illustrated by Agnes Mathieu (North-South Books: $12.95; 28 pp.; ages 3-6). Any kid who has been laughed at because she or he is different from others will latch onto this gentle picture book about discrimination. Arthur is an adventurous aardvark who sails across the ocean, leaving his native folks behind. When he lands in a strange country full of "rude, curly-tailed creatures," he is crushed when they make fun of him . After all, they're weird, not he. Dejected, Arthur returns home, accompanied by Rudolph the pig. Now it is the aardvarks who ridicule the visitor. "What a fatty! . . . Look at his head! His skin!" Through wisdom gained from pain, Arthur teaches the others about tolerance, and "none of them ever laughed at each other again." A lovely story for children as well as adults.

TRAPPED IN TAR: FOSSILS FROM THE ICE AGE by Caroline Arnold; photographs by Richard Hewett (Clarion Books: $12.95; 57 pp.; ages 8-11). During the Ice Age, Southern California was home to more than 400 types of creatures, many of them preserved by the goo of what is now known as the La Brea Tar Pits. The wonderful George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries next to the pits is a surreal oasis where life-size models of prehistoric animals appear to sink in a black pond. Lucky are the many children who have toured these exhibits, but for those who haven't, this picture essay is the next best thing. Dozens of black-and-white photos and a coherent text lead young readers through a fascinating history lesson and show how paleontologists excavate and study fossils, still an ongoing task. In fact, according to the author, homeowners in Los Angeles' Hancock Park area occasionally find ancient bones while digging in their gardens. Speaking of digging in the urban garden, Jennifer Cochrane's URBAN ECOLOGY (Bookwright Press: 50 pp.) explains that the city too is a habitat, and not for Homo sapiens alone. Part of the Project Ecology series, originating in Britain, it includes glossary, index and addresses of a number of U.S. organizations, including Children of the Green Earth.

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