Bookmonger: Children's books from authors named Eric

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 2, 2013 

Sometimes I like to review books together if they share a theme, but I confess the common thread I've identified between the two picture books I'm covering this week is tenuous: both of the authors have the first name of Eric.

Eric Kimmel is a professor emeritus at Portland State University. He has written over 50 books for children, many of them taken from his Jewish heritage, and his latest book, "Hanukkah Bear," is a delight.

This is a reimagined edition of "The Chanukkah Guest," a book first published in 1990. With a shorter text, new illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka, and a new title, "Hanukkah Bear" still features the same dear old lady, Bubba Brayna, who is busy cooking up fresh latkes for the rabbi when there is a knock on the door.

Bubba's hearing and eyesight aren't optimal, so she mistakes the large furry bear on her doorstep for the rabbi, and invites him in to celebrate Hanukkah. They participate in all of the traditional activities - lighting the menorah, eating latkes, playing dreidel. And even though the "rabbi" seems a little more gruff than usual, Bubba gives him a hand-knitted scarf as a Hanukkah present.

That's when there is another knock on the door, and the real rabbi shows up.

This is a charming and gently humorous tale, and the illustrations by artist Mike Wohnoutka add to the fun.

The author of the other book has his roots in education, too. Eric Ode began as an elementary school teacher, using original stories and songs in his classroom. But since getting a master's degree in education technology, the Bonney Lake performing artist has taken his work on the road - giving concerts and presentations of his silly wordplay all across the country.

Ode's latest book is "The Boy and the Dragon," which features - in typical Ode fashion - rhymes, rhythm, repetition and alliteration.

The boy in the title is small Saul, who accompanies a motley band of knights as they straggle across the countryside in search of "a green, scaly dragon with leathery wings / who gobbled up villagers peasants, and kings."

The knights' objective is to get rid of the dragon, but these foolish fellows end up being distracted from their task in various ways. So it is small Saul, alone, who encounters the fearsome dragon high on a mountaintop.

Illustrator Jim Harris uses a pastel palette for this project - and while the dragon does have very sharp claws and pointy teeth, Saul figures out a way to use music to cow the dragon into retreat.

I raise only one objection with this book: the font size seems a mite small. But this is a text-rich tale, and a lot of adventure is squeezed into 32 pages.

I'll wrap things up with a plea: now that the holidays are upon us, don't just leave the young ones to their electronic devices - make sure you take time to read with them, too!

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.

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