Long Island Books: Fear Not, You Kids

New picture books

    I don’t know what a wipe warmer is, but it sounds like something I’d like to try.  
    Let me start over. Wipe warmer. The humor in those two words is as good an illustration as any of the winning brevity in Lizzy Ratner and Jen Nessel’s “Goodnight Nanny-Cam” (Plume, $14), a send-up of Margaret Wise Brown’s 1947 masterwork, “Goodnight Moon,” itself chillingly concise in its intimations of death. Sure, little bunny, go to sleep, but only after bidding adieu, one by one, to everything known to you in your dimming room, like the terminally ill renouncing the material possessions of the world.

    This “parody for modern parents” targets the helicoptering alphas among them, the oh so concerned and correct, who play Baby Mozart (to scientifically proven no effect), who eschew all toys with phthalates lest their boys become hermaphrodites (though that’d be okay too), who foist yoga poses upon their children (but weren’t they cynically based on the calisthenics of colonial British soldiers?), who love hemp and who chart bowel movements.

    You get the idea. Give up! Genetics is destiny. But what fun there is in the cartoonish illustrations by Sara Pinto, who packs almost as much visual wit into the background of her work as Bill Elder used to in the old issues of Mad — from the already-bricked fireplace gated off to pointlessness to every furniture edge carefully rubberized to the “Let’s Feel Our Feelings” flash cards to, yes, a passing helicopter out the window.

    Ms. Ratner, by the way, is a journalist whose writing can be found in the estimable Nation magazine and known around here, perhaps, as the daughter of Julie Ratner of the Ellen’s Run breast cancer fund-raiser. Ms. Nessel is the communications coordinator at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

    But to get back to the book, it gets even better: Those wipes are edible.

“Fog Island”
    Finn and Cara, the brother and little sister in Tomi Ungerer’s “Fog Island” (Phaidon, $16.95), live “by the sea in the back of beyond,” where their mother tends livestock and their father fishes and builds boats. And where the two kids do what kids do best — explore.

    But they’d best steer clear of Fog Island, they’re warned, from which the foolhardy and fearful don’t return. They naturally don’t listen, although they do approach the mysterious place with open minds and hearts, finding a gaunt old Fog Man, who produces prodigious amounts of the stuff with the turn of a boiler’s wheel, and whose hair and beard are long enough to cover him like a muumuu.

    Of their visit, we are told, “Finn and Cara had never had so much fun.” They survive the return trip to the mainland only by way of a rowboat rescue. Of course no one believes their story.

    Mr. Ungerer, formerly of East Hampton, formerly married to the late Miriam Ungerer, who was a food columnist for The Star, is the author of legendary children’s books — “Moon Man,” from 1967, to name just one. He’s won a Hans Christian Andersen award for illustration and has an entire museum in France devoted to his work.

    Here he’s conjured a shrouded faraway world in which a brother and sister can indulge their wildest imaginings, share secrets, and communicate in their own private language of love. Adults need not apply.

“The Good and Bad Dragon”
    In “The Good and Bad Dragon” (CreateSpace, $9.95), a new fairy tale by Edward Packard of East Hampton and the Choose Your Own Adventure series, with brightly colored art by Beth Ogden, the dragon is a force of nature unleashed upon a village in the Pyrenees after 200 years of slumber, unpredictably rolling in hillside wildflowers like a blissed-out dog one minute, arbitrarily dealing out Old Testament-style destruction the next.

    Jeanne Marie, an ostracized and overlooked old woman left behind when the villagers flee, turns out to be the only one brave enough to stand and confront the dragon. But God smiles on fools and innocents, as they say, and the two discover they’re both lonely, both even share a contemplative love of the landscape. The old woman is rewarded with a magically restorative blast of dragon’s breath.

    Here’s to the misunderstood.