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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, January 15, 2006

Comfort Books Are Ones We Reach For Time And Again

Much has been written about the therapeutic effects of "comfort" foods upon our physical well-being. Think creamy mashed potatoes. Think Grandma's chocolate layer cake. Think savory chicken noodle soup. Likewise, youth services librarians can attest to the therapeutic effects of comfort food for the mind and soul a those books that we reach for time and time again to share with our readers. Here's a sampling of READ Center staff favorites to whet your appetite.

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London.

My vote for all-around crowd pleaser is the first in the "Froggy" series. It's wintertime and Froggy, who is supposed to be sleeping until spring, wants to play in the snow. Several attempts by his mother to make sure he is dressed appropriately for the blustery outdoors always fall short.

The capper and set-up for the story is that Froggy forgot his red woolly u-n-d-e-r-w-e-a-r. (Saying the word underwear in a story time with preschoolers always results in gales of laughter.) The book also proves that mothers, even amphibian ones, always know best.

Charlie the Caterpillar by Dom DeLuise.

Thematically similar to "The Ugly Duckling," celebrity author DeLuise's picture book is recommended by Lola Teubert. Full-of-life Charlie sets off to see the world, only to find that he is unwanted by other animals. "You're an ugly caterpillar," they taunt him. Charlie's enthusiasm for life wanes as the seasons pass and he envelopes himself into a cocoon. The arrival of spring not only heralds a new season but a dramatic change in Charlie's appearance. Sporting beautiful wings, Charlie bypasses those animals who wish to play with him only because of his colorful wings.

"If they want to be my friends just because of my beautiful wings, they can't be real friends," says Charlie.

At book's end Charlie finds a true friend, one who understands and accepts him for himself. Isn't that what life is all about a having a friend who understands and accepts us for what we are?

Five Minutes' Peace by Jill Murphy.

Long a favorite of Ruthann Hall, Murphy's offering will please every harried mother who needs a brief "Calgon, take me away" respite from little ones. Mrs. Large, the pachyderm, conspires to have five minutes all to herself soaking in a hot bath. In flower- bedecked cap Mrs. Large luxuriates in her bubble bath ever-so-briefly until her three offspring arrive to share some unplanned quality time with Mom. On-target illustrations, lovingly depicting the organized messiness of the Large household, will ring true with most families.

Toot & Puddle: You Are My Sunshine by Holly Hobbie.

Kerisa Ricketts is a big-time fan of this ebullient porcine duo. The third story of the series finds Toot feeling mopey and Puddle doing everything he can to cheer up his best bud. Nothing works. A five-berry cobbler only brings a brief smile to Toot's porky lips. What does perk up Toot's demeanor will be a surprise to most, but the outcome certainly relieves Puddle's concern for his forever-friend. Soft watercolor paintings nicely complement this gentle tale of true friendship.

You're All My Favorites by Sam McBratney.

Author McBratney has a knack for answering some of those really tough questions our children ask. Lola Snyder recommends McBratney's newest publication for its tactful handling of a sticky-wicket family situation: "Am I your favorite child?" Delicately illustrated by Anita Jeram, Mommy and Daddy Bear assure each of their three cubs that "you are the most wonderful baby bears in the whole wide world," but each of the cubs has doubts about himself. Mom and Dad expertly allay the cubs' fears and questions in a gently reassuring manner that results in a loving environment for all.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

No list of "comfort" books would be complete without this timeless classic, written over a half-century ago. Recommended by Jan Steinmark, Moon is the quintessential bedtime story about a little rabbit who says goodnight to all the familiar objects in his room.

Brown's masterpiece of calm and tranquility quietly assures children that all is right with their world. Would that we could always make it so.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.