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Children's Corner
Bob Hoover
Children's Corner
Jamie Lee Curtis one celebrity author

Tuesday, November 10, 1998

By Karen MacPherson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Children's books written by celebrities are a new way for publishers to pump up sales, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Unfortunately, too many of these books underline the point that children's books aren't as easy to write as many people think.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis is an exception to the rule that most celebrities who want to be writers shouldn't quit their day jobs.

Curtis' first two books, "When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth" and "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born," were deserved best-sellers, as both children and adults were charmed by her special brand of realism and zaniness.

In her latest book, "Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day" (HarperCollins, $15.59), Curtis has done it again. Here she tackles the issue of the intense, roller-coaster emotions that young children feel.

With typical good humor, Curtis pinpoints an emotion - silliness, anger, loneliness, etc. - and then fleshes it out with real-life examples from the life of what seems to be the same small heroine featured in each of her previous books. Amazingly, she does all this in a lilting rhyme that's unforced and witty.

As in her previous books, Curtis' story is delightfully complemented by the exuberant illustrations by artist Laura Cornell.

Readers have an extra treat at the book's end, where Curtis and Cornell have constructed a mood wheel around the enlarged face of the young heroine. Children can turn a top wheel to set the eyes of the heroine to a particular emotion, and then turn a bottom wheel to match. (Ages 4-8)

(By the way, HarperCollins also has just released a special edition of Curtis' second book, "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born," which includes a tape of her telling the story, plus two songs. The set costs $15.95 and is aimed at ages 4-6.)

Singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter has taken one of her popular songs and set it to pictures in "Halley Came to Jackson" (HarperCollins, $15.95).

Although the text still reads too much like a song's lyrics, Carpenter's book is a readable and satisfying volume for children and adults.

Perhaps it's the interesting subject that helps this book overcome its flaws. Carpenter was inspired to write the song some years ago after reading that author Eudora Welty had been carried to the window as an infant, safely cradled in her father's arms, to see the 1910 Halley's comet streak through the night sky.

The book is unabashedly sentimental yet also curiously appealing. The illustrations by Dan Andreasen add to that appeal, as Andreasen plays with perspective and color to picture a time long ago. (Ages 4-7)

Joyce Carol Oates is a renowned author who has won numerous awards, plus the best praise of all - a legion of devoted fans.

Yet Oates isn't - at least yet - a children's writer. Her first book for children, "Come Meet Muffin!" (The Ecco Press, $18), is a self-conscious effort to reach down to a child's level - unlike the best works for children, which reach out to them on their level.

Oates' story focuses on a spunky cat named Muffin who's adopted by a family as a stray kitten and then goes on to save two fawns by helping them find their mother in the dead of winter. It's not much of a storyline, and it's not helped by Oates' sometimes leaden prose.

Oates has said that she found writing a children's book a very difficult process. It's clear that she has tried hard to write an engaging children's book but couldn't pull it off.

The illustrations by Mark Graham are beautiful, but it's just not enough to save the book. (Ages 4-7)

Before she died in 1991, ballerina Margot Fonteyn wrote her own version of the classic ballet, "Coppelia." Now, Fonteyn's text has been coupled with lushly textured illustrations by the husband-and-wife team of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher in "Coppelia" (Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace, $17).

The result is a charming book that brings a fresh approach to this tale of a dollmaker who believes his most beautiful creation has come to life. Fonteyn's text is lively and fast-moving, ably aided by Johnson and Fancher's illustrations. (Ages 5-8)

Actress Jane Seymour and her husband, director James Keach, have six children, and the two youngest are twin boys. It's these boys - jokingly referred to by family members as "this one" and "that one" - who inspired Seymour and Keach to write two children's books.

"Yum! A Tale of Two Cookies" and "Splat! The Tale of a Colorful Cat" (Putnam, $12.99), are focused on humorous incidents. But they are spoiled by cloying texts that all-too-obviously feature the Seymour-Keach household, turned into cat characters. Geoffrey Planer's workmanlike illustrations don't help.

These are books that should have been self-published and kept in the Seymour-Keach family archives, instead of being offered to the general public. The same stories in the hands of a more adept children's book writer could have been witty; here they are embarrassing examples of books by people who think writing children's books is child's play. (Ages 3-6)

amazon.comBuy these books at amazon.com

Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day

Halley Came to Jackson

Come Meet Muffin!


Yum! A Tale of Two Cookies

Splat! The Tale of a Colorful Cat

Past Reviews

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