Reviews: Toon Books’ spring 2010 releases

Benny and Penny in
The Toy Breaker

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I love Toon Books and I would love to see them on every child’s shelf. It delights me that they’re getting plenty of honors reserved for children’s books because they absolutely deserve it. So you can probably tell in what direction these reviews are going to go in.

Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker
This is the third in Geoffrey Hayes’ stories about two mice siblings — Benny and Penny. Brother Benny is a little older than sister Penny, but the two (for the most part) get along. This has them trying to hide their toys from their cousin Bo, the “toy breaker” in the title.

Bo means well, but he’s a kid who hasn’t quite grown into himself yet and so he’s more destructive than he means to be. Benny and Penny are a little mean to him, excluding him from their games since they’re fearful he’s going to ruin their toys. By the end, though, the siblings understand how harsh they’ve been to Bo and they all find a way to play together happily.

It’s a sweet story told in language kids can relate to. I think we all knew a kid who tended to break things accidentally (Hayes himself mentions a neighbor, Skippy, in the back, who did that very thing) but Hayes pushes for understanding rather than exclusion. His art remains forever adorable — the little animals that populate this book are cute without being cloying. His art reminds me of classic comic strips and the retro feel of the book is appealingly innocent. The seeming simplicity of this book belies a great message for kids without ever being preachy.

Zig and Wikki in
Something Ate My

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Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework
The first Zig and Wikki book, on the other hand, is a little bit different for Toon Books. Written by Nadja Spiegelman with art by Trade Loeffler, it follows two aliens named Zig and Wikki as they try to find a creature on earth to complete Zig’s homework. In the process, they learn about diets and eating habits of various creatures as well as the food chain. Readers learn about each as facts appear on Wikki’s screen.

As far as a beginning science book goes, it’s a lot of fun and I can imagine the content appealing to boys quite a bit. Zig and Wikki are odd-looking (Zig has one eye and tentacles for arms and Wikki is basically a monitor) and the animals they encounter — flies, frogs and more — are of the “gross” kind. Loeffler’s art is cartoony and playful, but it’s almost too cute in some cases — his adorable raccoon trying to eat an adorable frog is a bit jarring, even though that’s reality (luckily, the frog escapes). Spiegelman incorporates the “educational” parts into the story easily and I think even I managed to learn something. I hope we get to see more of these two aliens and their adventures in the future.

Toon Books’ offerings continue to be strong and they’ve already created an incredibly impressive catalog. Buy these for the children in your life. Or yourself. I am obviously far out of the target age range, but I love them.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

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