Review: The Baby Swap by Jan Ormerod

Baby Swap by Jan Ormerod

The Baby Swap by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (InfoSoup)

Caroline is not happy to have a baby brother. Her mother adores him despite his dribbling mouth. She talks all of the time about his yellow eyes and green skin and how very cute he is. When her mother goes into town to exchange her hat for one that is just right, Caroline gets an idea and heads to the baby store to trade her baby brother in for one that is just right too. The baby panda with yellow eyes like her mother likes eats the bamboo furniture. The baby elephant is too squirty and ends up breaking a fountain. The two baby tigers are too active and too much of a handful for her. By the time she goes through all of the available babies, the store only has one left, her original baby brother. But after all of that, he looks pretty perfect to her!

Ormerod takes a humorous look at sibling rivalry in this picture book. Caroline is clearly jealous of the time that her mother spends with her little brother, but that is transferred to disliking his drool and activities. The idea of exchanging an infant for one who fits and suits you better is a clever one, and an idea that children will understand. The ending where Caroline takes her own brother back works very well and doesn’t feel forced or overplayed. Instead it feels like the natural extension of the experience that the character has had.

Joyner’s illustrations add to the humor of the book. Filling his pages with a community of different animals, Joyner makes sure that it is a modern world with cell phones, portable music, and cars. Yet it also has a distinct vintage feel in the way that the characters dress and touches like the price tags on the babies and their cloth diapers. It’s a distinctive mix of the two, one that is modern and yet warm.

A great addition to the crowded shelves of sibling rivalry books and one that takes a more lighthearted and humorous approach to the situation. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon and Schuster.

Review: The Potato King by Christoph Niemann

Potato King by Christoph Niemann

The Potato King by Christoph Niemann (InfoSoup)

A Prussian king named Fritz loved the idea of the potato. It was easy to grow and healthy too and could just solve the hunger problems in his country. So he went to a nearby village and told them about the potato and its benefits and planted some potatoes for them. But people don’t like to be told what to eat, and the village rejected the potato entirely. Then King Fritz had an idea. He ordered his army to go to the village and guard the potato field, telling them to be very lax about it. Suddenly, the people were very interested in a food that they were being stopped from eating and that was valuable enough to guard with soldiers. They snuck into the field and stole the potatoes, planting them in their own gardens. It was a clever use of reverse psychology to create a crop that would end up being a staple of the area.

Translated from the original German, this picture book is told very simply. The book ends with a brief history of the potato and how it came to Europe from South America. It also admits that this tale may be a myth, but that’s part of what makes it all the more fun to tell. Niemann manages to take a moment in history and turn it into a rollicking tale that young children will enjoy immensely and will relate to immediately.

The illustrations in the book are done entirely in potato prints of different colors combined with actual potatoes too. The prints work particularly well when used to create larger scenes of hills of grass and crowds of soldiers. Somehow the crude images have their own personality too, particularly the king himself whose open mouth and bright red color mark his as unique right from the start.

Nominated for a German Youth Literature Prize, this picture book has a wonderful organic charm all its own. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.